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Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - f#a#oo

Kranky - 1998

Michael Panontin
intro: foreboding background feedback

enter: eerie foreshadowing (this is pre-Sept. 11) of Lee Marvin voiceover

"we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death - it went like this..."

cue: weepy strings

"the buildings toppled in on themselves, mothers clutching babies dig through the rubble..."

And so begins f#a#oo, one of the most auspicious debuts of the nineties, if not in all of prog-rock. F#a#oo is many things - haunting, ominous, hallucinogenic, pensive, depressive and hopeful, a sort of Court of the Crimson King for the post-rock generation. It was, at the time, a blueprint for crushing our preconceived notions of rock's parameters, for taking elements of chamber music - cello, violin and glockenspiel - and melding them with drums and electric guitars. Along with bands like Low and Rachel's, GYBE! laid the groundwork for a new paradigm, a sort of obverse punk revolution, creating layered side-long pieces that unfold intricately as they progress, slowly building in intensity, not unlike, say, New York minimalism (of which GYBE! claimed to be only vaguely familiar), the introspective nordic textures of Sibelius' symphonies, and the space guitars of Hawkwind or Amon Duul II.

In their seldom-given interviews (GYBE! maintain an almost obsessive sense of privacy), they insist that they are essentially a rock band working within the headspace of punk, and an extra hidden track at the end of the CD certainly reinforces this. But the plodding nature of their music, the painstaking patience with which themes are revealed and then allowed to open up and, rarely, to explode, place them just as firmly in the classical. Perhaps it's the frigid Quebec winters (like those of Sibelius' Finland) that lend themselves to a more pensive, introspective approach.

Originally released in 1997 on Constellation as a vinyl-only LP (which included among other goodies a flattened penny and a silk-screened etching of a train), the music was reworked and expanded, with another piece added for the Kranky CD release. In fact, GYBE! continually return to the train theme (not a surprise given that their Montreal home/recording space, hotel2tango, backs onto railway tracks) but rather than the Kraftwerk/Throbbing Gristle focus on repetitive track vibrations and locomotion, GYBE! explore the spacy echo of a train's horn, signalling a kind of desolation as the train passes by in the distance, trailing off for points unknown.

This kind of desolation-despair, as evinced by the bleak black-and-white cover photo, pervades the record. 'East Hastings', used in the riveting intro to the sci-fi flick 28 Days Later, builds from the rueful resignation of a creeping guitar and strings, then careens off towards its fiery apocalyptic climax. The closer, 'Providence', starts off with the lament of a cello that segues into a stunningly beautiful glockenspiel, suggesting signs of hope. The final majestic, soaring guitars and pounding drums recall Joy Division on side two of Closer, though the sense is more of ascension (after the apocalypse no doubt) rather than salvation. The final "movement" or segment, entitled 'string loop manufactured during downpour', is ethereal, almost hallucinogenic space rock - absolutely brilliant!

F#a#oo is a post-rock masterpiece.



     Godspeed You Black Emperor!

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