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Efrim Manuel Menuck: Pissing Stars

Efrim Manuel Menuck: Pissing Stars

A worthy trip into the insular world of a talented artist.

Efrim Manuel Menuck: Pissing Stars

3.5 / 5

Since the beginning, Godspeed You! Black Emperor has prided itself on internal equality. Though guitarist Efrim Menuck has always been the band’s de facto spokesperson, he has at least in performance shied away from being in the spotlight. Even with A Silver Mt. Zion, Menuck’s other long-running band, he’s maintained that he is not a front man but part of a collective. But as the leader of his own album, he’s found it harder to blend so seamlessly into the bigger picture.Pissing Stars, Menuck’s second solo album, still does its best to obfuscate the performer whenever possible. The album is loosely based around the brief romance between Entertainment Tonight presenter Mary Hart and Mohammed Khashoggi, son of an arms dealer, a relationship Menuck read about as a child in the 80s. The pairing of “The televisual blonde and the rich Saudi kid with the murderous father,” as he’s described it – struck a chord enough to endure in his memory for 30 years, and enough to inspire this album. Yet none of this is ever truly explained outside of old interviews with Hart, shrouded in feedback, which leaving the listener to sift through murky waters to pick up on these themes.

Surprising nobody, the album begins with a nearly two-minute drone before settling into a solemn, overblown guitar repetition and Menuck’s fuzzed-out voice. “The good times aren’t the good times anymore,” he sings on “Black Flags ov thee Holy Sonne.” It’s a surprisingly direct line, one of few on the album. Menuck isn’t going to spell everything out for you, and that lack of lyrical clarity is matched by his voice, which constantly seems strained near the point of breaking and is perpetually obscured or buried under each song’s muddy layers.

Still, Menuck has always been able to create satisfyingly atmospheric music with very few tools, and this album is no exception. The album’s sharpest moments come when he allows the listener a glimpse into his own life, or even just steps away from the gloominess. “Pinned to the sheets by a man with a belt/ …I learned when I was very small how to breathe through pain/ I never did breathe normal again,” he sings on “LxOxVx / Shelter in Place.” It’s lyric that leaves you with an uncomfortable ache, and one of Pissing Stars’ finest moments, not just because of the oscillating drone threatening to overtake Menuck at any moment, but because he chooses to simply deliver it so directly.

Pissing Stars is an immersive listen, but the lack of directness elsewhere on the album makes it difficult to properly engage with. It’s an overly-serious trip, with but a few moments of light, namely “A Lamb in the Land of Payday Loans,” the sole track that could be described as “a straight-up jam.” This isn’t a party record, and may not be required listening for anyone not already familiar with the building blocks Menuck & Co. utilize, but at a brisk 45 minutes, it’s a worthy trip into the insular world of a talented artist.

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