It drones, it creaks, it rises and falls. What the hell is it? As shown by the description in the title of this review, how can someone categorize 9 Canadians banging, strumming, twanging and pounding their instruments to create these bleak, dreary wastelands of sonic rapture? These nine Canadians make up a band called Godspeed You Black Emperor!
(the band's name changed after Yanqui U.X.O. when they began placing the ! after 'You'). The vast array of instruments include but are not limited to: guitar, drums, bass, strings, keyboard, marimbas and woodwinds. Put together, they form magic. The best way to describe Godspeed would be in the words of Samir Khan, "Guitars and violins soar, drums crash accordingly, basses chug along, and people get ***ing hurt. If, to talk in guitarist-speak, there is a pedal for "intense," Godspeed You Black Emperor! have stomped it to bits."
F# A# (Infinity)
was released in 1998 off of Kranky Records. The material on this album consist of works produced by the band between the years of 1995 and 1998. Godspeed spent 3-4 years producing a masterpiece that covers 3 tracks, running just over 63 minutes.
For anyone unfamiliar with Godspeed, they don't make 'songs'; their albums consist of compositions or movements that flow intricately into each other.
1. The Dead Flag Blues (16:27): (i) The Dead Flag Blues (Intro); (ii) Slow Moving Trains/The Cowboy; (iii) (Outro)
2. East Hastings (17:58): (i) "...Nothing’s Alrite In Our Life..."/Dead Flag Blues (Reprise); (ii) The Sad Mafioso; (iii) Drugs In Tokyo/Black Helicopter
3. Providence (29:04): (i) Divorce & Fever; (ii) Dead Metheny; (iii) Kicking Horse On Broken Hill; (iv) String Loop Manufactured/During Downpour
The Dead Flag Blues (Intro)
- Theres static in the air at the beginning. A man's deep voice begins, "The car's on fire/and there's no driver at the wheel/and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides/ and a dark wind blows." Violins play in the background and are followed up by guitar being twanged by a screwdriver. The mood is one of a post-apocalyptic era where the government has collapsed: "The government is corrupt/and we're all on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn." The twanging ceases and the violin takes back over until it fades away. 9/10
Slow Moving Trains/The Cowboy
- From the silence a faint noise is heard. A chugging train can be heard coming closer and then going away. Very strange noises that subtlly resemble the sound of a passing train echo across the void and once again fade away. This segment leads into one of the most inspiring songs on the album. A western-y feeling bass line is faintly heard. Then starts the guitar twanging again. It gets louder and louder. Now different instruments are accompanying it as melody upon melody is thrown on top of the heap. The screwdriver-played guitar cries out with a magnificent solo at the end. The guitars become softer until theres nothing left but the original bass line and a quiet French horn. 9.5/10
- After a brief silence, a violin comes forward and plays another western-themed piece. It is joined by a xylophone and together they play out the rest of the track until once again exiting quietly. 9/10
...'Nothing's Alrite in Our Lives'.../Dead Flag Blues Reprise
- The second track introduces another sound byte of a man who is apparently preaching about Jesus and all that jive. A solitary bagpipe backs up his rants with its high-pitched screeching. The sounds fade out and the listener is left with an eerie, ghostly wailing that continues into the next movement. 8/10
The Sad Mafioso
- The screwdriver-fretted guitar is a main attraction of this piece. It starts of quietly, dispersing small tastes of what might come. The guitar gets louder and then quiet, then louder once again. Its joined by other guitars and drums. Once the dissonance is almost too much to bear, the instruments halt and there's silence once again. Voices rise up ever-so quietly and then the listener is met with quick attacks from the violins. The music builds once again but this time it doesn't disappoint. The tempo is increased, the drums pound away and this is where the 'people get fuci
ng hurt.' Drums roll, the cello wails and the everything gets blown to pieces. The commotion dies out and the piece ends. 10/10
Drugs in Tokyo/Black Helicopter
- From the silence come another sound byte and the listeners first encounters with the eerie, ambient noises Godspeed can produce. The feeling is one of desolation and loneliness. Whats sounds like the buzzing of flies eventually ceases and the track pulses into the next. 8/10
Divorce and Fever
- A sound byte of Blaise Bailey Finnegan is played over the sound of a helicopter rotor. His voice is then overtaken by more ambient noises that sway back and forth. 8.5/10
- A quiet guitar lick is repeated over and over. Its a very catchy tune. It builds and builds whilst accompanied by the strumming of a second guitar. A sorrowful violin begins to play along with the quiet French horn. A trumpet is heard in the distance, signaling the coming of something big. The composers take their time and use it effectively to build up this unwavering tension. Violins continues to play their sad song over the initial riff and the horn grow slightly louder. Eventually the horns stop and the xylophone takes over the melody. It builds upon the original one effectively and then ends. The slack is picked up slowly, building with bass, guitars, horns and drums. The beat is now rolling along. The two percussionists are in high gear here as they bang out this tremendous tribal beat. Accompanying it is more guitar. That drum beat is almost orgasmic. It builds and builds and ends before the listener reaches their full melodic climax. 10/10
Kicking Horse on Broken Hill
- Starting off with haunting voices singing, this next movement begins with a military-sounding vibe to it. Snare drums are used along with the guitars and trumpet as the music marches solemnly. More horns enter and then the tempo is suddenly picked up by speeding violins. All the other instruments join back in and the precession continues on. Finally the cat is let out of the bag and the drums pick up a foot-tapping groove. The sound peaks with a final "hurrah" and then fades into the haunting voice again. 9.5/10
String Loop Manufactured
- ...But this time, it's singing a lyrics from a song off the musical "Godspell." The background crackles and is engulfed in static and more ambient waves of sound and finally nothingness. 7.5/10
- the only problem I have with this album is this almost 5 minutes of utter silence Godspeed decided to stick in. But after the wait, a small noise is heard. It builds in volume and others join the build-up. They are joined by an uprising wave of noise. Soon enough, the tempo increases and Godspeed blows everything wide open with its percussion and the loud wailing of what sounds like a saxophone or something similar. The drums give one last set of spotlight and then stop. The album ends. 9/10
Godspeed's debut album is a good slap in the face for the music industry. It delivers on so many more levels than the tripe that is spoon-fed to the general public everyday. The bleak, desolate soundscapes of F# A# (Infinity) let the world know that there's hope even if you have to grope through the darkness for it. This album is Godspeed's gift to the world. Embrace it and love it.
The Dead Flag Blues (Intro)
The Sad Mafioso
Kicking Horse on Broken Hill