Returning with the sixth full-length recording and first since the bandâ€™s line-up change of summer 2008, the group have shed three members, recruited one (drummer David Payant) and officially dropped the “Tra-La-La Bandâ€™ from its name. Kollaps Tradixionales ably demonstrates the band has lost none of its raw and frazzled anthemic power and continues to forge bold new ground in its search for a unique hybrid of punk, blues, psych, folk and modern orchestral idioms. Anchored by the fried electric guitar and plangent voice of band leader Efrim Menuck (who previously co-founded Godspeed You! Black Emperor) SMZ continues to slide comfortably and unforcedly towards an expansive, loose and blues-inflected balladry â€“ not so much the inexorably riffing blues shuffle of the title track from its previous effort, 13 Blues For Thirteen Moons, but a more languid waltz-time marking an almost smouldering dynamic arc, as heard on the new albumâ€™s opening track â€œThere Is A Lightâ€ and gorgeous closer â€œâ€™Piphany Ramblerâ€.
Needless to say, the slow burn with SMZ, whatever the blues influence these days, bears little reference to typical notions of musical seduction, relaxation, or hip-swinging satisfaction. What smoulders here is much more precarious and anxious, driven by some of this decadeâ€™s more devastating lyrical conjurings â€“ of the universal outsider and the thematics of 21st century western psychic oppression. As the lyrics to â€œThere Is A Lightâ€ attest, these are no simple paens to the human spirit, but songs of complex, desperate and thorny hope. The words to this song (and so many others too often poorly understood in the SMZ cannon) should at least give the lie to the oft-repeated charge that Menuck is some sort of miserablist or glib pessimist. This time around, they are also legibly printed for all to see and read in the accompanying insert.
With Efrim now the lone guitarist, his shattered oscillating tone and staggered snarling leads collide against one another on tape, framed by a swirling widescreen backdrop of dual violins, courtesy Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss. Their playing is in ways more classically orchestral than ever in many places on Kollaps Tradixionales, serving up arpeggiated runs and modernist strokes that counterbalance and destabilize the more conventional progressions at the core of any given song or movement. Thierry Amarâ€™s upright bass work as always plays a similar role, fluidly moving from harmonic anchor to counterpoint to adventurous extrapolation, displaying this playerâ€™s fluency and alliance with free jazz, improv and out music. The way all these strings push and pull, with their own multiplicity of influences, against those punk rock â€˜lektrik guitars has long been one of SMZâ€™s crucial and inimitable strengths. It is on fine display in many exciting new guises on the new album, and the bandâ€™s freshest member, drummer David Payant, does a wonderful job playing into and off of this heady brew.
And of course there is plenty going on here that ainâ€™t no blues at all, particularly the two middle sides of this four-sided album. â€œMetal Birdâ€, as it has been known to fans from set lists over the past couple of years, takes up Side Two (or tracks 2 +3 on the CD) and the two sections now bear titles that together spell out the entire first enigmatic line of the song. This has been a massive crowd favourite in concert in recent years, careening through a throbbing 7/4 template of intertwined ascending and descending lines, coalescing into unison melodies and pumping breakdowns. The sonic references are abundant, ranging from afrobeat to bouzouki music to hard bop to punk rock â€“ culminating in the memorable refrain â€œdance you motherfuckersâ€. The three phases of the albumâ€™s â€˜title trackâ€™ on Side Three (with their variant spellings and parenthetical modifiers) are indeed â€˜traditionalsâ€™ of a sort, playing on tropes of American and Anglo-Saxon folk, marching song, sea shanty and hymnal. Together they make for perhaps the most overtly enchanting (â€œKollapzâ€), tender (â€œCollapseâ€) and terrifyingly rapturous (â€œKollapsâ€) music on the record.
And for all the Constellation collectivists out there, you may be interested to hear that Kollaps Tradixionales will be available to purchase on CD in a custom gatefold paperboard jacket with lyric sheet insert, and on double 180g 10” vinyl in a deluxe package that includes a CD copy of the album, a special 16-page 7â€³Ã—9â€³ perfect bound art book of found image collages by Efrim Menuck and filmmaker/photographer Jem Cohen with a foil-embossed cover, and a limited edition silkscreen poster. Yum yum.