With this harrowing, deep-voiced monologue begins _f#a#00_ (I can't make the infinity symbol so I'm improvising), a cinematic masterpiece lacking pictures but telling a lucid tale. Long, dusty, lonely elegies of smotheringly morose music illustrate a world on the brink of apocalypse. This is Godspeed You Black Emperor!'s first readily available album (forget trying to find their debut...only 33 copies were ever made ::sigh::), and to many it was their first experience to this band's stunning power. Calm but eerie silences can be extremely disarming as crescendos and loud dynamics can creep up unexpectedly, then retreat with equal abruptness. The band has seemingly concretized into a nonet, but here I'm not sure how many musicians actually worked on this record (I've heard numbers from nine to seventeen). Needless to say this is not a conventional rock band at all. I'm not sure I'd call this rock music anyway -- the writing is so structurally unusual, stylistically diverse, and instrumentally the band works more like a mini-orchestra. Each instrument, from violins to guitars to percussion, is an integral part of an organic collective rather than different musicians working together. Erm, those might sound like the same thing but they really aren't.
Each track is a lengthy suite (16-minutes, 18-minutes, and 28-minutes long) languidly flowing through several movements. Taken individually, each section is remarkable in its own right but the full power of the music is the meshing of different passages to splash different undertows of emotion over a general mood. One could easily say the individual passages have nothing to do with each other and feel randomly spliced together, but I couldn't disagree more. Each movement carries on from the last with coterminous emotions, establishing a congruous whole encapsulated within each track. Perhaps the different movements don't make cohering musical sense (though I don't know who would be actually qualified to say such a thing), but they _do_ make emotional sense.
"The preacher-man says it's the end of time...so says the preacher-man, but I don't go on what he says."
For all of GYBE!'s anguished dirges for apocalyptic endings, there is a faint sparkle of hope sluiced somewhere inside that doomed, lonely shell. This dichotomy of tone -- faint-but-defiant hope and crushing despair -- is emotionally twisting, uniquely powerful, and has resonated through me ever since I've started listening to this band. I'm not sure how long the feeling will last, but this stuff cuts deep. The crescendos this band peaks at are nothing less than utterly overpowering -- 11 minutes into track 2, "East Hastings", I come dangerously close to crawling into a dark corner, clutching myself in the fetal position, and whimpering , "mommy..."
"...hungover it's awful, the sound of trains collapsing back behind of here; outside there are distant birds circling in front of 7 miles of heavy cloud falling down, &from where you're lying one of those clouds looks like a hanged man leading a blind, indifferent horse...THIS IS MILE END MY FRIEND, the hollowed out ruins here &a train runs straight thru them... we made a record here in mile End..."
Those familiar with the band's mythic anonymity and vehement artistic credo may call them pretentious, but I'll be damned if they don't write some of the greatest music I've ever heard. Turn off the lights, crank the volume (this needs to be heard LOUD), and become lost in Mile End. It's a despairing, forlorn place, but you may never want to leave.
Believe me, this album is not for the faint of heart or for those who prefer their songs to come with lyrics or tidily end after only a few minutes. Godspeed have instead painted portraits of abandoned cities and desolate wastelands using nothing more than their own instruments.
Indeed, the effect of the album is not unlike listening to the soundtrack to a film that's had its vocal tracks removed or lost, leaving the plot to be determined by the listener's imagination, and the few found-sound vocal clips utilized by the group for atmospheric purposes. (The most noteworthy of these being the street preacher that opens the album's second track.)
Perhaps Godspeed's greatest accomplishment with this album is just how emotional it is. Godspeed know very well that lyrics aren't needed to provide emotional depth to music and prove it ably in the album's tracks. Beautiful strings gradually build up to cathartic wails before dropping out. Faded-out pianos suggesting a long-lost Old West tavern rise from nowhere. Unhuman voices overpower the listener before transforming into the powerless buzz of a fly.
Those with open minds or a like of experimentation owe it to themselves to get this straightaway. Otherwise, Lift Your Skinny Fists provides a much better (and much less harrowing) introduction to the group's work.
never before have i listened to an album and automatically had an out of body experience with no drugs involved. Read more
I'm goning to assume that you, like me... Read more