Alt/Indie Review of the Year 2006
The end of the world will be an interesting sight, I would imagine. Perhaps the skies will change from blood red to bright orange to golden yellow and back again seemingly at will, matching the chaos of a civilization crumbling. Perhaps there will be no sky at all. Or perhaps there will be nothing
at all. To some who are secure with death, the end of the world will be a beautiful spectacle to behold. To others, it will be the personification of every ill emotion possible. Fear, denial, anger, rage, despair, and lastly, defeat. And what does one hear while watching a society burn? If there was music to be heard, what would it be? Would there be melancholy violins or uplifting trumpets? A death metal-esque instrumental or a quiet acoustic guitar?
There is no need to wonder anymore, because Godspeed You! Black Emperor has created the soundtrack to the apocalypse, and its name is F# A# ∞
. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a post rock band from Canada. Post rock is an interesting genre. Usually, there is a minimal amount of vocals; a lot of post rock bands forego vocals completely. The songs are long, if you can call them songs. They’re more like movements or acts, similar to classical music. The albums frequently have a theme. For this particular album, the theme is the end of the world. Dark, gloomy landscapes are created by violins, cellos, and xylophones, as well as the standard guitars, bass, and drums. Each song is longer than fifteen minutes, with the longest song clocking in at twenty-nine minutes long. Although this may seem daunting at first, the album is an incredibly easy listen. One can listen to individual songs, but it is best to take the album in as a whole. The only vocals are a gloomy narrative in the first track, a preacher in the second track, and in the third track there is a short interview as well as some unintelligible singing. Clearly this is not something that everyone can get into, but if one takes the time to listen, they will find an epic, sprawling soundscape of beauty.
Track One: The Dead Flag Blues
I woke up to the end of the world. I was roused from my sleep by a jolt in the night. Well, at least it should have been night. My clock said 12:37 A.M., but the sky was on fire with the most spectacular mix of red, orange, and yellow that I had ever seen. I heard violins in the distance, playing a beautiful harmony. What my ears were hearing was a stark contrast to what my eyes were seeing. The violins were uplifting, but the chaos trod upon my soul. Fear gripped my heart. The violins had faded away, now a melancholy guitar line was being played. As I walked slowly through my crumbling neighborhood, I heard cellos join the guitar. The sound was amazing. It seemed so different from what I should have been hearing, but in a way, it fit so perfectly. Despite what was going on around me, the music soothed me. I felt more at peace than ever. The music soon faded out, and terror took hold again. I heard the train in the distance. Maybe if I could get on board, I could get out of here. Maybe it was better somewhere else. Perhaps I could escape the carnage. Ambient noise built in the distance. Could I make it to the station in time? The ambience got louder and louder as I got closer and closer.
Finally, I arrived at the station and the noise stopped. I boarded the train. As we started moving, all I could do was stare out the window. A slow bass line faded in, accompanied by a guitar strum here and there. Soon, a western-ish guitar riff was being played. I was reminded of the old cowboy movies I used to watch. Would I ever be able to see them again? Would things ever be the same? The music was building, getting louder as more instruments joined. A violin was playing, and drums had come in. The sights whizzed past as the train trudged on. Trees were on fire, and houses were ablaze. What had caused all this? What was the source of this pandemonium? The music was reaching its climax as the train neared its destination. The violin and drums faded out. Soon only the bass could be heard, accentuated here and there by a clean acoustic guitar strum. The train stopped as the music did. I stepped off the train, and to my immense relief, my friend was waiting there for me. More music had faded in now. A xylophone accompanied by a violin and other instruments was playing. The uplifting sound I was hearing matched my relief. I embraced my friend, happy that I had found a source of shelter in this madness. We set off down the road to see if we could find some answers as the instruments stopped with a final strum of the guitar.
Track Two: East Hastings
A preacher was by the roadside. He had no explanation for us though. He spouted praises to God, accompanied by a man playing the bagpipes. The music put me into a trance. The hypnotic rhythm captivated me, so much so that I could not here what the preacher was saying anymore. The sky cleared, the sun started to shine, and I felt an overwhelming sense of hope that the world would not end, and that we would make it out alive. As soon as he stopped playing though, I snapped out of my trance. The sky was aflame again, and chaos was still abundant. As we went further down the road, an abysmal guitar riff could be heard. The guitar was soon joined by a simple drum beat. We surveyed the damage, still unsure of what had happened. It was all so sudden. I had gone to bed with no worries, but I had awaked to the end of civilization. A man ran toward us, insane with fear. He was yelling that he couldn't find his family. He was incredulous, begging for our help. Unfortunately, we had no assistance to give. He cursed at us and ran down the road. The guitar had stopped, now there was a cello and violin playing along with the drums. The music got gradually slower before stopping altogether.
We proceeded further on in silence for a few moments. Soon, a clean guitar faded in, playing the same riff as before. Drums came in, playing essentially the same beat as it had before. The riff was accompanied by two violin strums here and there. Eventually, more violins faded in. The riff sped up; the music was becoming more frantic, matching the turmoil. The drums started to play faster, faster, faster, as well as the other instruments. The wait for the finale was becoming almost unbearable. And then it stopped. With a crash of cymbals, the music was gone, leaving only a hint of ambient noise. On my friend's walkie talkie, we picked up some sort of message about a "large barge." We quickly lost contact. Paranoia was starting to set in. The ambient noises we were hearing only made it worse. At any moment, we felt that some black cloud would explode and we would be dead. The end of the world leaves only a slim margin of hope. A helicopter could be heard in the distance. We noticed a sort of moaning, which quickly escalated into an almost scream-like sound. The sound stopped suddenly. A fly buzzed around our heads. I brushed it away.
Track Three: Providence
A few days had passed. We had been sleeping outside, under the fiery sky. The sky had not changed at all. It still burnt brightly, and no hints of blue could be seen. We had entered a small town, and talked to some of the people there about what had been happening. The stock market was in turmoil, with no hope of rebuilding itself. Even if civilization didn't end, we would still be in trouble. But it didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore because we had stopped hoping. And when hope is gone, there is nothing left. We pressed on through the town, accompanied by a soft cello melody. Wind chimes could be heard, swaying softly in the breeze. The townsfolk shot paranoid glances at us. Crime was rampant; we couldn't blame them for being cautious. A xylophone started to play a nice happy rhythm, soon climaxing in a frenzied few hits. Soon, the bass started to play the same line that the xylophone had stopped, and some cymbal hits could be heard in the distance. The drums started to play a tribal beat, eventually getting louder and louder. A guitar played, repeating the same notes over and over as the drums sped up. By this time, we were walking faster through the town. The citizens were starting to riot; driven to insanity by the chaos. We made it out of the town as the music reached its climax and stopped.
We were walking along the open road now. Nothing could be seen in the distance, except a solitary figure walking towards us on the opposite side of the road. As the person neared us, we could see that it was a woman. She was half-humming half-singing as she pushed her cart along, filled with useless junk that she was attempting to sell. She crossed the road and offered us a broken clock. We declined. How ironic, I thought, that she offered a clock. Did she really think that time mattered anymore? We walked on. A clean guitar started to strum some chords. Militaristic marching drums faded in. A guitar treated with slight distortion tremolo picked a western sounding riff as the drums stopped. A violin started playing to accompany the guitar. The drums started again, playing louder this time. Soon, the distorted guitar strummed the chords, louder and louder. The drums sped up and soon the music stopped. Another person was walking down the opposite side of the road. He carried pamphlets about God, singing "Where are you going?" over and over. He handed us a pamphlet and quickly moved on, still singing. I looked at the booklet. "Are You Ready for the End of the World?" it said in red letters. I discarded it disdainfully. No one could ready themselves for the end of time. How do you prepare for the end of civilization? More ambient noise joined my musings. No one can adequately prepare for the world's end, because no one knows when it will happen. One thing I could say, however, was that we definitely were not prepared.
We stopped walking. For a few minutes, there was utter silence. The breeze didn't blow, and the dust had settled. Silence. We stood still, ears cocked to the distance. I looked up. Were my eyes deceiving me? Was the sky clearing? The horizon was ever so slowly turning to blue. Drums faded in quickly, and with a huge hit on the cymbals, started to play an almost orgasmic beat. Cellos played a frantic rhythm along with them. A chugging bass could be heard underneath it all. The sky was turning bluer with every second that passed. The sun started to shine. The drums continued their frenzied beat, stopped, then came in again with another crash of cymbals, then repeated. Then the music stopped altogether. The sky was completely blue now. I looked at my friend and smiled. Hope had returned. Then I awoke. It had all been a dream. I glanced at my alarm clock. 12:37 A.M. Next to it was a pamphlet. I don't know how it got there. I picked it up and read the cover.
"Are You Ready for the End of the World?" it said in red letters.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor's F# A# ∞ is an amazingly beautiful, epic album. I was floored the first time I heard it, and the reaction is still the same with subsequent listens. From the sprawling soundscapes of “The Dead Flag Blues” to the fevered, paranoid feel of “East Hastings” to the triumphant hopefulness of “Providence,” the band has created something that will be remembered as one of the greatest post rock albums of all time. Although the mood of the album is largely dark and gloomy, underneath it all lies an endearing sense of hope. Upon first listens, the album appears to be a warning; if we do not improve the way we live, then we could be ushering in the end of the world. As one listens further, however, they will find that the album is not a warning at all. As humans, there is one thing that we will always have as long as we draw breath: hope. Hope never dies, and as long as we hold on to that feeling that we will make it through, anything will be possible. When it appears that all is lost, when it appears that death is near, when it appears that the very earth is crumbling around us, we still have hope. I believe that is the message that Godspeed You! Black Emperor were attempting to get across with this album. Out of all of the albums that the band has released, I believe that this is their best, simply because it takes you far away to a place that seems so very different from where you are now, but at the same time it doesn't seem so far-fetched to think that we could all be there somewhere down the road. So pick this up and be transported away, maybe for a longer period of time than you at first wanted. Who knows? You might not want to come back.