Thee Silver Mountain Reveries

Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP

(Constellation; 2004)

By Dom Sinacola | 9 January 2008

Like Kim Deal’s explanatory excitement preceding “Tony’s Theme,” so the Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP revs into sharp, grimacing igneous rock formations: the kind of grunginess mostly absent from any of A Silver Mt. Zion’s previous work (aw, shoot, did I give away the Reveries’s secret identity?). “More Action! Less Tears!” is a phenomenal opener, landsliding cymbals falling deadly over the cratered face of some of Efrim Menuck’s most elemental guitars since Lift Yr. Skinny Fists. Here come the screeching strings; set them parallel with the careful drift of cellos and Sophie Trudeau’s violins; keep up the storm of percussion, thicken the bass with an apposite melody to contend with Menuck’s riff, and beat the chaos into a silky cream. Godspeedamn! This is my jam!

Past the incessant exclamation marks, the singing begins. Some might remember Efrim’s first attempt at crooning in A Silver Mt. Zion’s excellent debut, 2000’s He Has Left Us Alone But Sometimes Shafts of Light Still Grace the Corners of Our Rooms. His voice, extended, cracking, and endlessly grating, was still a valiant effort, mostly harmless next to gorgeous cuts like “13 Angels Standing Guard ‘Round the Side of Your Bed.” Two releases later, ASMZ added more words and changed a bit, as this amorphous Montreal collective is often predisposed to do, forming the Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir. Political agendas and pop music commentaries aside, Efrim’s shaky vocals coupled with a choir of outta-tune, outta-sync banshees dominated the album, making for numerous intriguing moments, but mostly obscuring any essential melodies and arrangements.

One more moniker transformation, and Efrim is once again attempting to wrap his throat around tales of paranoia and, as if this is any surprise, global atrophy. His lyrics, spaced by jilted syllabics, slowly reveal the title of the song underneath viscous reverb and solemn piano: “Mic-ro-phones-in-the-treeeeees,” he follows the gradual decline of melody, still grossly wracked by an inability to carry a note. Only, instead of becoming frustrating, his words sleep under the mix, gathering horror for the slow assault of white noise separating his stanzas. The structure of the song courses through predictable movements more ethereal than could be expected from Ole Loud-Soft Menuck, resulting in something strikingly devoid of “crescendos.” Instead, the choir leaps suddenly from a singular voice, ignoring slow build and dropping out without any slow burn. Still jarring, the voices sound splendidly together, not as crassly off or even as close to inconsequential as their previous incarnations.

Cheers must also go to A Silver Mt. Zion’s co-founder and bassist, Thierry Amar, who, although a seemingly silent partner against Efrim’s high-end warble, develops a sickeningly deep and foreboding beat for “Pretty Little Lightning Paw,” the album’s centerpiece and most patiently rewarding piece. Trudeau’s violin melee is covered in fleas, itchy and intense preceding another choral rendezvous. The voices try again for Heaven (or Hell?), adorning the worst of Efrim’s squeals, filling in holes, widening holes, spraying the fringes of holes with gasoline and setting them ablaze. It’s an arresting convulsion, brought back to Earth in the peppered tweeting of a friendly bird.

“There’s a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow” is this EP’s only lagging track, not necessarily a failure, as the gelatinous bass and floor of static surrounding Efrim’s feet provide a more than suitable precursor to a tiny lullaby of chimes creeping above the lyrics halfway through the song. Undoubtedly hypnotic, “River in the Valley” is just mostly boring, sputtering out before much of the plodding rhythm has a chance to work out its intent.

I’m not afraid to heap a load of praise upon this lowly, unassuming EP.