“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…”
Danny Boyle introduced me to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. His use of their music in 28 Days Later was some of best directing I’ve ever seen. He of course admitted planning the movie around the band's music, which I find very interesting. It’s fitting that he chose this band to represent a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a society that’s lost itself. That’s what the music contained here reflects through the sheer use of atmosphere and ambient soundscapes. It’s a journey indeed.
F♯ A♯ ∞ ("F-sharp, A-sharp, infinity") was the debut album that brought this post-rock group of anarchists acclaim outside their local Montreal scene. This band, along with groups like Explosions in the Sky, Talk Talk and Slint, share the idea of what post-rock is supposed to be. GY!BE seems to hide in the shadows. This isn’t music to digest in quick settings. It’s meant to create landscapes in the mind. There’s an epic, almost claustrophobic emptiness to this music. Like walking down a potholed highway with nothing in sight, exploring the ruins of an abandoned city, or in the case of the faith-based, the rapture. So many ideas conjure up like dreams or movies. It’s almost too hard to explain because it’s such an open idea.
The first track, usually called “The Dead Flag Blues,” has four movements. Such as with classical music, these songs are rather large and contain a wealth of arrangements that build up to epic climaxes, then back down to very soft moments. The sense of terrifying dread once that opening monologue starts brings to life the idea of death, despair, paranoia and disaster. The string melody, accompanied by glockenspiel, violin and slide guitar, is eerily comforting in the midst of that opening salvo. Once the intro closes, the use of field recordings takes over and a distant train is heard. This is where GY!BE really shows off its talents to create atmosphere. It’s a good use of worldly sounds and sights to give the songs life beyond a simple recording.
Second track, “East Hastings,” is the centerpiece of the album and most well-known from the band. A street preacher gives his best while bagpipes reprise the dead flag blues. It then segues into the song's second movement, titled "The Sad Mafioso...," which was used in Boyle’s film. This section provides the best use of full band instrumentation. Guitars gently pluck, only to give way to full-on ferocious force while the strings calmly keep pace, bass rumbles like boulders and drums lay down a death rattle. The band also interjects a small vocalization harmony, not likely to ever be done again. It’s a brilliant piece of instrumentation, ending with electronic noises and buzzing until the bass throbs it out.
The last track, “Providence,” has six, count em’ six, movements and it clocks in around 29 minutes. There is no brevity here. It’s a test in companionship for the long haul. Are you committed to this relationship? Can you suffer through all the ups and downs until the eventual end of your short lives? Ah, and because of the locked groove of the final track, the vinyl edition technically has an infinite running time, so it’s an eternal ending I suppose. Good job guys…
Say what you will about this form of music, but damn it’s beautiful. And I hate using that word beautiful because you need to back it up. I think it speaks for itself here. GY!BE is one of those bands essential to any serious music lover. You’ve heard the name mentioned here and there, so now is the time to get with it. Get this album, have a good set and setting and listen. Listen with open ears and an open mind.
Note: this review is based off the Kranky CD release of the album, which is significantly longer than the LP version released on Constellation Records.