GYBE is more or less the flagship band for the Constellation label. Their band has spawned many other bands, and nearly every member has played on someone else’s record or released a solo album. Which is why it’s surprising to realize just how few albums they have released.
This first album caused quite a stir. It was released on vinyl and then released (with an extra 29 minute song) on CD. Few bands sounded like this before, and a whole new genre was created around their brand of multi-piece, sorta orchestral post-rock.
There are three songs on this record, but based on some information given in the CD, the songs have been informally broken into parts.
The Dead Flag Blues. The song opens with “The Dead Flag Blues (Intro).” It features a rough-voiced man speaking what I have recently learned is a script by Efrim Menuck. Backed by a string melody, the speaker describes a derelict city, where the government is corrupt and the inhabitants are drunks. After the strings fade, two guitars play a repeating motif with occasional string fills and then a slow solo violin section which fade to silence
For part 2 “Slow Moving Trains” / “The Cowboy…” the sound of a train whistle interrupts the quiet. It’s followed by a series of slow descending notes on a guitar. After a few minutes a twangy guitar comes in to play a Western-ish motif. The rest of the band slowly comes in and creates what sounds like the first real Godspeed sound—a full band making beautiful orchestral instrumental music. It’s all too brief though as it melds into part 3.
Part 3 is known as “The Dead Flag Blues (Outro). It opens with violin and glockenspiel playing a much more upbeat tune. It lingers for around 2 minutes and then the songs ends.
“East Hastings” has three parts as well “…Nothing’s Alrite in Our Life…” / “The Dead Flag Blues (Reprise)” opens with bagpipes and a man ranting. It’s only 1 minute and a half before “The Sad Mafioso” kicks in. This part builds slowly with spare guitars and waves of sound. The guitar reconciles itself to a riff, slow and quiet, with a neat minor note in the middle. It sounds like the kind of thing that is just building to something bigger, slightly more ominous. And as the band kicks in again, the riff becomes much more meaty, but before it can totally take over, it gives way to strings and drums–playing a simple melody that continues the feeling of the guitars. When this ends, far in the distance you can hear a voice singing the melody although it is quickly replaced by two guitars playing the riffs while the strings keep jumping in. And then they start working together, growing bigger and louder and faster. Until it reaches its end with squealing feedback and a man saying “they had a large barge…” which opens up part three, “Drugs in Tokyo” / “Black Helicopter.” This last part opens with a guitar playing harmonic notes along with washes of noise and feedback. Some of the noise sounds, yes, like helicopters (and this is where the band makes some use of the coolness of headphones). It’s a brief section that ends what is technically side one (although I see that the vinyl had about one minute extra at the end of the song).
Track three, “Providence,” is 29-minutes long and has five or six parts, depending on if you include the 3 minutes of silence. “Divorce & Fever…” opens with a lengthy spoken piece by “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”, who will have his own track dedicated to him on the next GYBE release. The music opens with distorted and backwards sounding guitars. Organs add to the mix and then this short section morphs into part 2. “Dead Metheny…” begins with some quiet guitar notes with the violins playing some mournful notes. But the glockenspiel jumps into play a pretty, fast melody. And then the drums start pounding away while harmonic chords are played over the top. There are simultaneous guitar solos in each ear while the drums continue to play loud and fast.
Kicking Horse on Brokenhill” has a staticy/echoey/distorted voice singing lyrics that are really hard to hear to a melody that is similar to “Amazing Grace.” After that fairly unsettling intro, the band begins a great section with multiple guitars and other instruments playing the same melody (this is the “Godspeed sound” in a nutshell. By the middle of this, it has built to something enormous–full of guitar lines and drums with the support of what feels like the rest of the band.
“String Loop Manufactured During Downpour…” has a distant voice (I assume from a record based on the static) begins singing “where are you going” in a rather haunted echo). The rest of the track is primarily washes of notes and stat icy noise until the 3 minutes of silence which precede the final proper track, “J.L.H. Outro” (stands for John Lee Hooker). It begins with guitars and washes of sound. The guitars begin exploring the main riff in different ways. When the song finally builds to a full band, there are different drum beats in each ear, creating a big cacophony of sound while the guitar wails away.
It’s a pretty great album, with many different elements–weird spoken word and fantastic instrumentals sections.
Godspeed You Black Emperor has had a few lineup changes over the years. They began with some 15 members and ultimately settled on these ten for F♯ A♯ ∞.
- Aidan Girt – drums
- Bruce Cawdron – percussion
- Christophe – violin
- David Bryant – guitar
- Efrim Menuck – electric guitar
- Mauro Pezzente – bass guitar
- Mike Moya – guitar, banjo
- Norsola Johnson – cello
- Thea Pratt – French horn
- Thierry Amar – bass guitar
[READ: January 26, 2106] “Cowan”
The previous Walrus story that Bertin wrote (back in 2013) was very dark. And so is this one. But whereas I found “The Eviction Process” compelling, this one I just didn’t like and couldn’t wait for it to be over.
This strikes me a kind of redemption story–the word guilt is mentioned once or twice. And it seems like perhaps this was the author’s attempt to make amends for being a shit heel. Except there is no real sense of redemption or apology or anything of the sort.
The end even seems like the narrator is simply lying.
The story about Cowans is that he is beautiful–like Clark Gable with beautiful hair. Yet for inexplicable reasons, the narrator and two other friends are incredibly cruel to him–they pick on him, hit him and, as the story progresses–whip him with chains and even burn him. And yet he laughs it all off. What the hell? I’d already lost patience with this story by then.
There is some business about the narrator’s home life being a complete disaster–the scene with his mother dancing is heartbreaking.
And the end involves a homemade spear and a malicious intent.
So yes, not my thing, and I certainly won’t be actively seeking out more stories from Bertin.