Thank goodness I have musical OCD. I likely would not have even known this album existed if not for my compulsion to check and re-check the post-rock section of my local record store with worrisome frequency. Needless to say, after finding out that Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion guitarist Efrim Manuel Menuck had put out a solo album, Plays "High Gospel", I realized I absolutely had to own it.
Somewhat predictably, the music sounds incredibly similar to rest of the Canadian post-rock scene, what with its loose, orchestral composition and wide use of dynamics. Given the subject matter (it's written about Menuck's relationship with his family and adopted hometown of Montréal), the music has an accordingly intimate feel. It's not quite on par with He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms..., lacking that true sense of longing that can only come from incredible loss, but damn if it isn't still heartfelt. The mood is several times brighter and more optimistic than F? A? ∞ or Yanqui U.X.O., but it still utilizes the vast emptiness that made those albums work.
The vocal tracks are the ones that really stand out on this album. The opener "Our Lady of Parc Extension and Her Munificent Sorrows" features Menuck's incredibly sorrowful and bittersweet singing chops. Guest performer Katie Moore only adds to the closeness with her wonderful folk-tinged vocal interplay. "I Am No Longer a Motherless Child" is another wonderful track, featuring some incredibly anthemic vocal builds and guitar lines in 10/4. "Heavy Calls & Hospitals Blues", however, is where Menuck's vocals really shine. They are shoved right to the forefront, backed only by his soft piano, and the result is incredibly moving.
That's not to disparage the instrumental tracks, mind you. "A 12-pt. Program for Keep on Keepin' On", the longest track on the album, is also the most obtuse. It features the droning and bellowing effects that made F? A? ∞ click juxtaposed with frantic, trashy, crossfading drum lines. It's also the most powerful track on the whole release, swelling to a huge climax before finally landing softly back where it began. "Chickadees' Roar Pt. 2" is another incredibly strong track, based on layering and swelling chirping samples that are arresting with their incredibly sweet sentimentality.
Menuck has proven time and time again that he is an incredible musician and songwriter on his releases with his other bands; it's reassuring (and only fitting) that his solo work should be just as strong, if not stronger. Any fans of the Canadian post-rock sound must hear this album.
9.0 / 10
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