Review Summary: We fell into it... Like a daydream, or a fever.
"Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind." - John F. Kennedy
Indeed these words can accurately describe the only way the world will end. The question about the apocalypse is one of the most frequently asked: how will it turn out? A world that is destroying itself is the only answer. There will be no nuclear warfare that destroys the planet, no solar flare, no unexplained elemental catastrophe that corrupts the atmosphere. And why should you worry about it? All you're really waiting for is death. It's inevitable, so why do so many fret about the possibility of the end of the world? But the apocalypse could very well be the only thing drastic and pure enough for individuals to finally realize there is more to life than domination, control, and hedonism. And Godspeed You! Black Emperor's post-rock masterpiece is the perfect representation of this. It's not an album: it's an experience.
The Best Post-Rock Album Of All Time
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F#A#∞
Released in 1998, under Constellation Records
And indeed, it is true: F#A#∞ is one of those albums that is a simple masterpiece, more than just an album a band recorded and recorded. It is an awe-inspiring, engrossing experience. And a statement. The actual recording of the album was well-prepared: a rather large group of ten members, all new and unexperienced to the music scene, had set up a site in the country of Montreal in Canada, where the record label of Constellation would be set up. After the first record label, they named the site the 'Hotel2Tango', and in one month, the band recorded the entire album on Vinyl. A limited set of copies were released, but the album was remastered and remixed on compact disc, which later gave the now-legendary band of Godspeed You!Black Emperor popularity in the US.
1998 in itself was a year full of innovative releases, there wasn't one that went passed by without a second glance (In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Mezzanine, and Nightfall In Middle Earth), but there is a viscerally attractive feature in GY!BE. It's the equivalent of a naturally apocalyptic world attempting to revive itself, and turned into music, into a statement. It's living people forced to see their own hell, their apocalypse. Where the world is destroyed by themselves. It's a concept album: dealing with the destruction of the world, and the doomed humanity's attempt to revive itself. It's a journey. But it's real, and it's believable.
As the description in the lyrics to opener and glaring highlight, The Dead Flag Blues
, the story is told of continual destruction to the world, an unexplained catastrophe, which eventually culminates in drugged inhabitants and a desolate landscape. It later describes humanity's attempt to resurrect itself from the spiral it left itself in. And if that sounds incredibly bleak and apocalyptic, the music that accompanies it is beyond haunting. While a very famous trademark of Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been using quiet, long ballads that are a combination of quiet post-rock and ambient textures, F#A#∞ is a slow-moving, ringing endorsement of an album, and confines itself in a sense of otherworldly darkness and suspense. It's an album who's emotions all build up.
That's what gives the album its powerful sense of awe: the emotional content. Rarely ever expressed lyrically besides a few lines here and there, the instruments speak for the album, atmospheric and building. Such as the disturbing violins in Dead Flag Blues
, the constant use of sound effects ([i]most noticeable in album centerpiece, East Hastings
), and the odd silence that accompanies Providence
Opening with Dead Flag Blues
, right away you can tell you aren't in for a happy story. With a single guitar line accompanying the vocals (which do not sing, instead they state), the two verses that come describe a ruined wasteland of a world, overtaken by drugs, a corrupted government, and an isolationist society. As soon as the first verse ends, the song is suddenly overtaken by a wave of beautiful violin work over a few bass lines, thick and acidly deep. After a few minutes of this, the vocals return very briefly, and this time describing a survivor (note the first person). Eventually the sound effects of a late train roaring into the station come, roaring. Once the train stops, the instrumentals return. Light, intense music comes back, with an amazing use of harpsichord, Western bass lines, quiet yet rolling drum fills, and a distant, atmospheric guitar progression. Put simply, the way the album nature goes from fevered and distorted, to a more upbeat nature, does make it very clear that F#A#∞
will have some kind of survival, all is not lost.
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, The government is corrupt
And we're on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn
We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
And the machine is bleeding to death
The sun has fallen down
And the billboards are all leering, and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles.
It went like this:
The buildings tumbled in on themselves
Mothers clutching babies, picked through the rubble
And pulled out their hair
The skyline was beautiful on fire
All twisted metal stretching upwards
Everything washed in a thin orange haze
I said: "kiss me, you're beautiful - These are truly the last days".. You grabbed my hand
and we fell into it Like a daydream or a fever
We woke up one morning
and fell a little further down -
For sure it's the valley of death
I open up my wallet
And it's full of blood
The album centrepiece, East Hastings, relies on sampling for vocals. Opening with unknown vehicles driving, a priest shouts in a foreign language, more than likely Bible quotes. The bagpipes blaze in the background, more feeble and paranoid than before. After an eerie tape loop, the whole song transforms into bleak and desolate, after a brief moment of hope, into something far more doomed: a slow, incredibly bleak guitar riff, one of the first signs of an actual use of electric, with energetic drums beginning to build up, booming and progressive, then overshadowed by pleading violins and an unforgiving acoustic guitar. It's as if you can hear
the emotions of the apocalypse. It then becomes an energetic, explosive atmosphere: with a rolling drum beat and screaming guitars backing up the violins. After a sample of indecipherable static (a sample from a movie, officially confirmed), it ends in a hail of distorted noise, stretching out with what seems like an eternity.
After it ends, the album then leads into the inevitability of Providence
, one of the longest album closers to ever cross. Unlike the two previous tracks, the song is one of the ultimate anthems of the apocalypse, of hope. After a layer of upbeat, heartwarming xylophone music and and a layer of ambience. After going for an extended amount of time, everything that happened before the album is entirely overshadowed by the frenzied middle and end: an energetic, rising eruption of music with standard guitars, drums, and bass. Following the middle section comes a piece of ambient opera (commonly referred to as 'String Loop Manufactured During Downpour'), meticulously planned to fit. As a matter of fact, the loop in 'Manufactured During Downpour' is actually the notes of F#A#∞, note the "endless loop" and "infinity" symbols. A four-minute eventually arrives, and just when you think F#A#∞ is over, electronic music and guitars rain down: sounding like society finally finding its footing. And after the guitar fades out, the soul of the apocalypse is gone.
Those who know the album, it is an undeniable quality that there is much more to the album than what has been described. It is a powerful apocalypse ballad, and one of the most original, expertly planned and devastatingly beautiful. It goes from disturbed and paranoid, to uplifting. Every track and every note here is well-planned and the sense of catastrophe is present throughout the entire album. This is not about just one story about the apocalypse in general: it is a representational, haunting experience.
An actual, ringing endorsement of what the apocalypse would be like, unlike most of modern culture. And it speaks louder than the music.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F#A#∞