Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Efrim Manuel Menuck releases Plays “High Gospel”, his debut solo album with Constellation Records

Efrim Manuel Menuck Plays "High Gospel" Constellation Records

The mystic aura of Godspeed You! Black Emperor had always been an invigorating element to the band when I was first tapping in to the group in the late 90’s. I had gathered all I could on the Montreal based megalithic and decade defining collective and one name that has always stuck around is Efrim Manuel Menuck. With the co-creation of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, contributions to the late and great Vic Chestnutt and scores of production work, Efrim Manuel Menuck has carved out a spot in history as a cosmonaut in sound and a connecting point of musical movement and evolution. There’s not a lot of maiden voyages being made in music today and Efrim is one of the few who makes them on every release he puts out. Efrim created a creative ligament to the city of Montreal by constructing Hotel2Tango, one of the longest lasting independently owned recording studios of Montreal in modern times. Started in 1995, the Hotel2Tango facility has been Efrim’s launching base for scores of recordings, concert promotions and other projects. Considering all of this work and the dozens of albums released with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion over the last 15+ years, the coming of a solo album was an unexpected but very warming welcome to all fans of the prestigious world of sound he is associated with.

Constellation Records has been constant supporters of Efrim Manuel Menuck’s career and they have faithfully and triumphantly achieved one of the greatest musical statement of the year with the release of Plays “High Gospel”. The debut solo album of anyone with this much history is always highly anticipated, and the contravention of past trappings is achieved in the highly layered and immaculate outing of Plays “High Gospel”. As much of a poet and social activist as he is an innovative composer and sound sculptor, Constellation had this to say about the unique gifts Efrim brings to the world, “Fans of Menuck will be well versed in his highly original and constantly evolving approach to the sound of the electric guitar – a unique combination of short and long analog delays, biting compression and blown-out clouds of pink noise distortion. His recasting of various folkways through the lens of uncompromising punk-rock is also well-documented in the discography of Thee Silver Mt. Zion, with that band’s use of poetically political group singing set against a hybrid of damaged blues, waltz, klezmer and folk instrumental tropes.” Constellation also boldly states, “Perhaps less appreciated is Menuck’s work as an inventive signal-bender and sound-sculptor, with an overriding commitment to analog processing, tape manipulations, re-amping and other iterative strategies. Efrim’s aesthetic and techniques remain about as diametrically opposite to the dominant Pro-Tools and DSP culture as it gets for someone working in contemporary multi-tracked rock composition and production.” When putting on a pair of headphones with Plays “High Gospel”, I became immediately aware of why these statements had so much meaning and truth.

Efrim Maneul Menuck’s Plays “High Gosepl” was written and recorded at Hotel2Tango, P.J. Mansions and Bloomfield Acres in Montreal between 2010 and 2011. Guest appearances from Godspeed and Mt. Zion alumni come from Thierry Amar, Nadia Moss, David Payant, Jessica Moss, David Payant and Katie Moore. On the origins of this debut album from Efrim, Constellation describes this debut outing as a “personal album that serves as an ode to his adopted Montreal hometown (where he has now lived for two decades), the passing of great friends (Vic Chesnutt, Emma) and new fatherhood“. With elongated spheres of synthetic and acoustic sound that trap themselves in a glossy submergence of transient thought and mental image mapping, scene after scene of worlds you never knew existed unfold song after song. Shades of my deepest emotions tenderly and gently sedated repeated listen after listen, more became a necessity, not an option. Coagulation of instrumentation kept burying itself as the rapacious and powerful vocal addition of Efrim carried and shined over almost every part of my senses.

Efrim and Ezra. Photo from cstrecords.com

The mystical and savory state of sound found on the instrumental piece ‘Chickadees’ Roar pt. 2′ became a spiritual recitation of  lifelong pursuits towards understanding my own self. I had to extract myself from mental caves as I dived deeper and deeper with Plays “High Gospel” serving as the soundtrack to this serenity. The ending of the song finds a sample of an outside world with birds of various kinds playing the earths song from that moment. Origin of this field recording is unknown, but the natural sounds bring a state of relation that reminded me of how unique yet the same this earth is. You know these sounds of nature so well, yet it could be in tens of thousands of places in this world. It’s a perfect ending to a minimal instrumental and a more than perfect pre-intro to the last song of the LP, ‘ I Am No Longer a Motherless Child’. “Look at my boy, look at him smile, I am no longer a motherless child” is a euphoric and victorious lyrical statement by Efrim. This song is of course dedicated to his son Ezra who also graces the hand painted front cover of the LP. Jessica Moss, the mother of this child, beautifully presents one of the most entrancing violin sections I have ever heard on record. You can tell mom was recording for this session, not just Jessica Moss.

Every piece gives light to a very different set of emotions and colors, some relying on heavy climaxes while other such as ‘August Four, Year-of-Our-Lord Blues’ sit in a very relaxed and minimal state. Heavily effected guitar and little overdubs contributed, there is reason in the space between the notes and sounds as much as those present. The space and emotion conveyed highlights how much of a modern composer Efrim has become over the years. The way he has mixed the record and the way Harris Newman mastered it reflects the thought that was  given to the movement of instrumentation, vocals, compression and separation. It’s a highly complex and experimental record produced to the highest levels of sonic possibility; a rare meeting of the worlds. High, mid and low resonance is just as powerful as the sheets of sounds Efrim constructs harmonically.

With long tides of guitar and synthesizer, each movement and song on this LP gracefully saturates into one another. The amount of sound to process divides itself into layers and even more sub layers and is very reflective in tone to the stories and history that represents the album. Efrim Manuel Munick’s Plays “High Gospel” is marvelous and highly imaginative, one of the best in 2011.

-Erik Otis

Efrim Manuel Menuck. Photo by Timothy Herzog

Efrim Manuel Menuck
Plays “High Gospel”
Constellation Records

Track Listing

  1. our lady of parc extension and her munificent sorrows
  2. a 12-pt. program for keep on keepin’ on
  3. august four, year-of-our-lord blues
  4. heavy calls & hospital blues
  5. heaven’s engine is a dusty ol’ bellows
  6. kaddish for chesnutt
  7. chickadees’ roar pt. 2
  8. i am no longer a motherless child

Order the 180g LP or CD HERE

Package Notes from Constellation Records:

CD comes in a custom gatefold jacket printed on 100% recycled CCNB paperboard in full colour with a matte UV varnish and a full colour printed CD sleeve on reverse 9pt cardstock. CD also includes a 4″x8″ fold-out lyric sheet.

LP is pressed on 180g vinyl at Optimal (Germany) and comes in a jacket printed in full colour on thick 24pt board with matte UV varnish. LP comes with a limited edition 10″x20″ art print poster and a CD copy of the album. LP also includes an 8″x8″ colour insert card and 4″x8″ fold-out lyric sheet.

Front cover painting of Efrim & Ezra by Corri-Lynn Tetz. Back cover handset in vintage wood type at Popolo Press by Kiva Tanya Stimac. CD gatefold/LP insert collage handmade by Jessica Moss.


2 Responses to “Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s Efrim Manuel Menuck releases Plays “High Gospel”, his debut solo album with Constellation Records”

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