Yet another name change, but this time its reflected in a significant change in personnel. Since 2008’s 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, three members of the group have departed – Beckie Foon, Eric Craven and Ian Ilavsky. With the addition of new drummer David Payant, and the remaining four original members (Efrim Menuck, Sophie Trudeau, Jessica Moss and Thierry Amar), the band recorded Kollaps Tradixionales as a basic quintet. The dynamic and sound of the band has changed considerably too. The raggedy choral element is much less pronounced. Instead, the guitar plays a much more dominant role than in any previous release. This isn’t the guitar of sweeping crescendos a la Godspeed You Black Emperor, but a much rawer, ragged and distorted instrument. Indeed, this album would be much more fittingly entitled This Is Our Punk Rock than the record that was entrusted with the name.
“There is a Light” is classic SMZ, with an air of impassioned desperation, that builds and falls with one of Efrim’s trademark vocals – aiming for the stars, but not always getting there, making him seem all the more vulnerable and human. The addition of luscious brass arrangements by Thierry just add to the melancholy.
“I Built Myself a Metal Bird” is nothing like anything they’ve done before, a furious, pounding rock song at punk pace, showered with distortion, and yet bruisingly tight (not an adjective that you could ever have levelled at the band before). It’s like the Stooges with strings. The following track is more or less part two of the same thing, starting with three minutes of improvisation and atmospherics and then pulling itself together into a remorseless groove that ends rather sooner than you expect it to.
The three pieces that form a suite of variations on the album’s title seem based on folk melodies, especially “The Olde Dirty Flag” that holds echoes of both Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown” and the traditional “Scarborough Fair”. Jessica and Sophie particularly shine on these three pieces. “Bury 3 Dynamos” has an almost Vaughan Williams like pastoral melody and atmosphere to it, buffed up with some acid freak-out guitar that is redolent of Michael Karoli’s early work with Can.
Some label SMZ as a protest band. A political band, sure, but they’ve always dealt in battered hope (as, indeed, did GYBE). It’s a bruised hope, it’s hard and sometimes it’s desperate, but it’s always optimistic that humanity can be saved from itself, and that it is actually worth saving. “‘Piphany Rambler” is an epic of hope that lifts the spirits as it builds towards the light. As a lyricist, Efrim holds little regard for grammatical structure, but uses words to build images, and to paint emotional landscapes often through repetition. It’s a kind of poetry that often loses much in printed form in that it comes from something primal. But there are some beautiful lines in “‘Piphany Rambler” – “This tiny garden that we tend, where flowers bloom like accidents. Let’s lay awhile and slowly wend through days as long as nights we spent hanging on”
The 56 minutes of Kollaps Tradixionales flies by – the music sweeps you into its grasp and carries you along a bumpy, but ultimately hopeful ride. The band have always had a looseness about them, and they’ve always ridden roughshod through conventional songforms, but emotionally they bind together much closer than any well-drilled traditional rock band. It’s music that’s full of life and that sounds like it pours out of them as naturally as the breath they exhale. A tremendous piece of work that underlines all the reasons I love music above any other art form. And just as much, makes me realise how I love life.
1 There Is A Light 15:19
2 I Built Myself A Metal Bird 6:17
3 I Fed My Metal Bird The Wings Of Other Metal Birds 6:18
4 Kollapz Tradixional (Thee Olde Dirty Flag) 6:08
5 Collapse Traditional (For Darling) 1:28
6 Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos) 6:48
7 ‘Piphany Rambler 14:18