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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F# A# ∞ CD (album) cover

F# A# ∞

Godspeed You! Black Emperor


Post Rock/Math rock

4.09 | 426 ratings

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5 stars A few years ago I was sitting in my office working at my desk with the radio playing quietly behind me. It was tuned to a local college station that I like to listen to during the day because they play a lot of eclectic music, and it helps pass the day. At some point I found myself just kind of mesmerized, almost as if I was in some kind of trance. I was just zoned out, and after a while I was jarred back to reality by this exploding whirl of noises coming out of the radio. To put it mildly – I was blown away! I think I saw God.

I called the radio station to ask the guy what he had just played, but unfortunately he must have been taking a crap or something because I just got an answering machine, so I looked up the station and sent them an email. A couple days later I got a reply with the playlist from that morning’s show. Turns out what caught me so off guard was the crescendo from “Providence” that peaks about halfway during that song. This was my first introduction to Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Since then I’ve picked up F# A# Infinity, Lift Your Skinny Fists…, and Yanqui U.X.O., and each work is progressively better and more seductive than the one before it, but “Providence” ranks today as one of my ten or twelve favorite songs ever by any band. The creativity, sense of musical exploration, and most importantly – the patience that went into creating this work of art are just incredible. This album somehow manages to sound completely raw, and yet infinitely calculated at the same time. Whatever this kind of music is, it is above all the highest form of expressive art.

I rarely comment on packaging of CDs, as they are almost never as interesting as the old vinyl albums sleeves used to be. But this one actually reveals a bit about the band, even though the musicians and their instruments are never really identified beyond the comment “16 rented tracks moving 7.5 inches per second into ampex456 W/OUT ANY KEYBOARDS”, buried in a rambling story about (apparently) the history behind the recording of the album, and a string of first names under the heading “godspeed you black emperor! (1995-1998)”. The story is about the band’s haphazard effort to put together the album (unless they are just making the whole thing up), and the various sketches and clippings surrounded by a starkly written divorce petition typed onto tissue paper actually are a good reflection of the type of music contained on the CD. It is all interesting, seemingly unrelated, and somewhat abstract even though each represents a concrete object or idea.

The “Dead Flag Blues” wanders along at an almost maddeningly slow pace, with the deep drawl of the narrator recounting a story about nothing much in particular. This has a southern, almost country feel to it, and is bleak and depressing, although I’ve never managed to play the whole thing through without giving it pretty much my entire focus of attention. The xylophone or whatever is making the tinny bell-like sounds at the end manage to convey either a sense of hope, or at least resigned contentment. I’ve no idea what this song is about (if anything), and I don’t want to spoil it by doing any research to find out.

“East Hastings” is I believe a neighborhood in Vancouver, and the bagpipes that lead into this song, along with the French guy rambling in the background (I guess he’s French – it’s Vancouver anyway) evokes a neighborhood scene, probably along the shoreline among the freighters and seagulls. It’s very dismal and at the same time, serene. At some point the music starts to wander into the picture, dominated by a whining guitar picking out a sad tune, with what I guess is a violin keeping time with the drum in the background. By around the twelfth minute of this there is a kind of crescendo of percussion and guitar, followed by some really creepy – well, I don’t know what they are, but the watery sound and echoing in the background further establishes this as a waterway scene. The whole thing ends up sounding like some air raid sirens with a diving fighter plane coming in for the kill. Plenty here to use your imagination on.

“Providence” is pretty much what I said before, a half-hour of scattered sounds – blustery conversation between strangers (“so says the preacher man, but I don’t go by what he says”), and some lonely strings augmented by drums, horns, guitar, whatever else the guys brought into the studio, building up to a peak and then dropping off into near silence. Then the part I spaced out on – guitars brass and steel and drums working up a frenzied crescendo that gets me doing the air-maestro with conviction every time I hear it.

Fade back to muffled silence, and it all starts over again for another ten minutes or so, building up to a peak once again before fading away in the fog. This alone is worth the price of admission.

Soul-cleansing stuff. Damn brilliant.

So you get the point.

I just love this album, even though it takes some real energy and a certain melancholic mood to really get into, so it’s not something you can (or probably should) play often. By the time Lift Your Skinny Fists… comes around, the group has polished their sound somewhat, and the arrangements are far more predictable than on F# A#. These are great to play as well, as their sophistication can be enjoyed over and over, almost without end.

But this is the first and most endearing of the Godspeed albums so far. Like I said, “Providence” alone is worth the cost of the CD, and “Dead Flag Blues” is probably the most striking introduction of a band since Marillion launched “Market Square Heroes”.

I’d love to give this one five stars – it really is a brilliant piece of work. The only drawback is that this is not an album you’ll play a thousand times – it’s just not quite that accessible. So I’ll settle for four stars for now, although reserve the right to amend this as the mood suits me.


P.S. The mood suited me on August 15th, 2006. Five stars.

F&*king brilliant!

ClemofNazareth | 5/5 |


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