Not much is known about Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They're from Canada, they play a neo-classical form of post rock with long movement filled songs, and there's usually nine of them. That's about it, due to a lack of much interaction with the press. Oh, and then there's the part where they make some of the most beautiful music heard in recent years. This is their debut album, and there's a very good chance it's also their best. Originally, the vinyl was released in '97 with just two songs. A year of fiddling, removing, adding, and refining brings about the CD release. f#a#
consists of three tracks, each with several movements, clocking at at just over an hour. Using standard rock instruments plus a bit of classical strings and some tape samples, Godspeed drudges along from subtle beginnings and slowly sculpts it into a raging wall of sound.
The album opens with an ominous spoken voice sample, as a part of The Dead Flag Blues
. "The skyline was beautiful on fire, all twisted metal stretching upwards, everything washed in a thin orange haze" says the deep voiced prophet. What follows is some of the bleakest, most gloomy music you'd ever want to grace your ears with. Dark, seeding guitar twangs about before being joined by ever so mournful violin. Then you're introduced to the fellas (and ladies) obsession with trains. This is understandable, with their "studio" being located closely by some tracks. The train hisses and creaks along the trail, as desolate ambient like sounds accompany it. One of the very few happy moments of this album is the outro to the beginning song. Xylophones twinkle and basslines thump as the song changes moods and comes to an end. The next song had a movement played in the film 28 Days Later
. East Hastings
features melodic guitar lines, chugging classical strings, and leads up to a face breaking climax in which everyone thrashes about like some sort of Hulk clone after being called fat. The last track is the 30 minute beast, Providence
. It does a wonderful job of displaying the tried and true "build/climax/recede" format as they've been known to use. The beginning contains a soft, subtle guitar line in one ear. This is one of the most simplistically beautiful things I've ever heard. Ever.
This is not an easy listen. The Dead Flag Blues chugs along at the pace of a snail, and is so dark and seedy, you may want to crawl into a corner, curl into a ball, and cry. The songs are very long. There's not a single one under 16 minutes. So you can't just sit down and listen for a couple minutes, or else it sort of ruins the experience. The movements also don't really transfer that smoothly. Most of the time, it goes to silence and the next one fades in. The problem, if you can call it that, is the bits of ambient nothingness that drone on and don't seem to contribute to the song at all. East Hastings has about 6 minutes at the end of nothing but pulsing and static. Not very exciting unless you're a fan of ambience. Train noises aren't really that much fun, either. At first, these bits will more than likely annoy casual listeners. But then again, I don't really think casual listeners will enjoy Godspeed that much, so it's almost irrelevant. Since most of this music is so wonderful, random noises for a bit are a fairly ignorable, but still present, gripe.
This album of neo-classical post rock really is a great album. The melodies present are simple, but very well written. The conglomeration of nine different parts over the course of several minutes makes for a very enjoyable time. Contained within is a well done break from the humdrum of the typical verse/chorus/verse format you'd likely find on the radio or other such accessible mediums. Unfortunately, this is by no means a perfect record. The flaws are omnipresent, but don't really hinder the experience beyond acceptable limits. You can ignore them, skip them, or just zone out as the ambient bits drone away. Then you can sink back into the groove of another slow guitar melody. For fans of post rock, you should already own this. For everyone else, it's definitely worth a willing ear. It turns out, the skyline was
beautiful on fire.