Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward

Dec 19, 2001 at 12:00 am

Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upward is a haunting, beautiful album. The Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra is a side project of Efrim, Thierry and Sophie of the revolutionary Canadian group Godspeed You Black Emperor! The group’s first album, He Has Left Us Alone But Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms, represented Godspeed stripped down to its bare essence — strings, guitar and piano. The trio has since expanded the core of the group to six members and the songs are swollen and exuberant.

A number of experimental Canadian bands share both a collective of musicians and a collective vision, a combination of Radiohead’s postmodern sensibility and Gorecki’s epic musical scope. The body of work composed by these artists forms a sort of bible filled with eulogies to forgotten epiphanies, empty streets, distant storm clouds, frightened children, bleak jobs and empty, meaningless sex. Born Into Trouble is a welcome addition to the canon.

Listening to The Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra is like watching a snake slowly uncoil. Most songs are more than six minutes long and they take their time to get going.

Intensity is built, note by note. These songs evolve, from tender, sweeping, cinematic ballads to violent, enraged violin abrasions and desperate, multitracked cries. Each song depicts its own creation and apocalypse. But really, it is unfair to call them songs; they are more like compositions — layered and complex, with melodic themes echoed in recorded tape loops and sparse lyrics. Amazingly, each track encapsulates all of the loneliness, suffering, poetry, alienation and tragic beauty of modern life. Cryptic, existential titles that would otherwise seem pretentious are truly the only way to label the music that they define. “Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire Are Falling From The Sky” immediately sets the mood for the album. Without a wisp of a drumbeat, strings shimmer like moonlight, and a sad, quiet piano melody comes on as if played by the hands of a ghost. Each song has a distinctive way of expressing the inexpressible, whether through the eerie, synchronized mewlings of weak suckling babies in “This Gentle Hearts Like Shot Bird’s Fallen” or the recording of a child’s inspired reading of an adolescent, biblical manifesto in “Built Then Burnt (Hurrah! Hurrah!).” Born Into Trouble traverses a tundra of emotional terrain and in its final defiant refrain, “Musicians Are Cowards” raises a bleak flag.

E-mail Joshua Gross at [email protected].