Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a deliberately enigmatic band, preferring to be known through their music and little else. Remaining outside the mainstream of popular music they have crafted six releases (but only four of these are still available) since 1994, and have come to be the most prominent band in the 'Montreal Post-rock Movement' that also includes Do Make Say Think, A Silver Mt Zion and Fly Pan Am. Their music is best described as instrumental - recordings made of everyday folk melt into flowing quasi-orchestral music, which rise to crescendos before falling back into simple melodies.
What Is 'Post-rock'?
This term is very hard to define, being used as it is to refer to a wide range of bands. Originally the term was applied to music that seemed to move beyond the confines of 'rock'. Just as rock 'n' roll changed the music scene by introducing a new set of rules that musicians could base their songs around, post-rock breaks these rules and creates new ones. Most Post-rock music is instrumental, the musicians communicating as classical composers did, through the music alone.
Post-rock bands, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, also reject what they see as the commercialism of modern rock, preferring to pursue their own agendas rather than monetary success. Due to this the music can appear inaccessible and it is relatively hard to get to know new bands. It is worth the effort, however, as the music is very rewarding and these bands are becoming more popular and may well be the next big thing.
It is worth noting that there is an international post-rock contingent as well, exemplified by bands such as Mogwai and Sigur Ros, coming from Scotland and Iceland respectively. These bands do differ from the Montreal movement, however, being on the whole less darkly brooding and having simpler melodies with less instruments than Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
The band is best described as a collective. Members collaborate on different albums and work on side projects, thus dropping out for a while. On their last album there were only nine members of the band: Aidan, Bruce, David, Efrim, Mauro, Norsola, Roger, Sophie and Thierry. At their height the number of members has been 20: Aidan, Bruce, Thea, Dave, Moya, Mauro, Thierry, Norsola, Efrim, Christophe, Steph, Sylvain, Colin, Jesse, Dan C, Dan D, Shnaeberg, Peter Grayson, Amanda. Certain legends accompany Godspeed; one of these is that all the band members live together in a converted warehouse in Montreal they call 'hotel2tango', which they also use as a recording studio. Whether this is true it's hard to say but it all adds to the mystery surrounding the band.
all lights f-----d on the hairy amp drooling
The elusive first release made in 1994, this is the only recording made of GYBE during their early days - if it can really be considered a release. Only 33 copies of these were ever made and at this stage the band consisted of only Efrim and Mauro. This Researcher has not ever heard this recording.
godspeed/fly pan am split 7"
This release, pressed on white vinyl with the track names printed in black on the LP centre, was given free with a Montreal-based music-zine (called aMAZEine) in the autumn of 1998. It has not been available since, but the tracks can occasionally be found in MP3 format online.
This was the first of their fully commercially available releases, on Constellation Records, and has three tracks with a running time of just over an hour. The album starts with a monotone about the end of the world and then flows into a dirge theme that has no definable beginning or end. Starting simply it diverges and has other melodies that wind their way around the central dark theme with truly beautiful skill. This dark, brooding, feeling continues throughout the record though relieved sometimes by sweeping movements that, though simple, are so full of pathos they are almost overpowering.
The highlight of the album, though, is the second track. Though it starts somewhat shakily with a vocal sample and some bagpipes, it builds to a piece of music so mournful and apocalyptic it evokes images of barren, empty lands. The perfect anthem to the end of the world1. As always with releases from Constellation Records the album includes beautiful, enigmatic, artwork in the release notes which are printed on tracing paper.
slow riot for new zero kanada
Released in 1999 this EP consists of 28 minutes of music spread over two tracks. The first track, of eleven minutes, has a very chilling feel to it. Continuing with the apocalyptic theme of F#A#∞, it seems to mourn for a fallen world. Building slowly it reaches a crescendo and then bursts through this wall of noise to a melody of simple, intense beauty. The second track, eighteen minutes long, features a recording made in the field, that of a Vietnam 'survivor' who has very strong views on the American Government. The music interweaves with the sample coming in and out as the track rises and fades in volume and depth of sound. As his anger increases the beauty of the guitars is highlighted in ever brighter relief. At the end of the track he returns, reading a poem, and the music continues with him, angry and loud, before dying away once more to a piercing violin led melody that ends the EP.
levez vos skinny fists comme antennae to heaven/lift your skinny fists like antennae to heaven
A double-album released in 2000, this contains four tracks and is almost two hours long. Its tracks vary from epic orchestral pieces that seem to encompass the universe to melodies based around a French nursery rhyme. The highlight of the album is the first track from the second disc, 'They Don't sleep Anymore', beginning with a delightful sample of an old-man talking about how Coney Island used to be 'the playground of the world'. The music that follows is simply mind-blowing. Like their other albums, although there are elements of despair and apocalypse, this album also has its moments of hope and light. There is a redemption present in this release that had not been present before.
Released in 2002 this album contains even more hope than the last. There are no vocal samples, and so this is a return from Levez... which was notable for its number of samples. The album cover itself contains a spider diagram linking major record companies to weapons manufacturers and a line drawing of some flying cats and a hammer with the word 'Hope'. The music is, again, quite varied but is shot through with more optimism and happiness than their previous releases. It's as though Godspeed have decided that the world is not doomed after all.