Godspeed You! Black Emperor

TrackAlbum
the dead flag blues (intro)f♯ a♯ ∞
dead metheny ...f♯ a♯ ∞
moyaslow riot for new zero kanada
lift yr. skinny fists ...lift yr. skinny fists ...
gathering stormlift yr. skinny fists ...
she dreamt she was a bulldozer ...lift yr. skinny fists ...
rockets fall on rocket fallsyanqui u.x.o.
motherfucker=redeemer, part twoyanqui u.x.o.
we drift like worried fire'allelujah! don't bend! ascend!
asunder, sweetasunder, sweet and other distress

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Contributor: Rick J Leach

It was a Thursday. Late morning, early October.

The beach was all but empty. Someone was far away, almost out of sight, playing with a dog near the edge of the sea. Dots on the horizon.

We had been walking for a long time along the flat, hard sand. The tide was out and the sea was behind us. Rippling. Tiny waves.

The sky was everything. It felt oppressive and huge, weighing us both down. Scarcely a breath of wind. Thick, dark clouds stretched from the horizon, over our heads, wrapping us in a bubble. They weren’t moving, merely static. Grey. Like the sea. The beach too, no colour. The world was monochrome; flat and lifeless.

It hadn’t rained for a couple of days and yet the sun was distant, blocked behind the ever-present clouds. All it was doing was adding a faint, watery hue.

A seagull wheeled and twisted in the sky in front of us. We carried on walking, slowly, side by side. The beach went on forever. Apart from the sound of our feet on the sand and the distant splashing of waves, there was no other sound. Neither of us had spoken for a while. We were just walking.

It felt like the beginning of something. Or the end.

“Do you think the sea ever gets up here?” she said. “Does it ever get this far up?”

“Dunno. I suppose it must. Sometimes.”

There was a line of driftwood to the right of us, washed up in front of the dunes. She took her scarf off and stuffed it in her bag. I walked with my hands in my pockets, looking up and along the beach. The dog had gone. There was no-one else. Only the two of us. It was the end of the world. Just us, the beach, the sky and the sea. Nothing else. There was nothing to do but to carry on walking away from the shore. After a while, she spoke.

“Can you hear the sea?”

“Yes, vaguely. Why?” My voice sounded too loud. It broke the silence but was muffled in the dead air.

“Listen.”

I stopped walking. We stood still and turned to face the sea.

“What?”

“Can you hear the waves?”

“Sort of.”

“Every seventh wave is supposed to be stronger than the rest. Listen … ”

I closed my eyes and concentrated, listening as hard as I could. The sea was too far way. Everything was quiet. I could hear her breathing and sensed my heart beating but as for distinct, separate waves; nothing. Maybe, though, I could make out a gentle lapping of water in the distance, but it was all too faint. Maybe I wanted to hear the waves, wanted to believe it was true. Maybe …

“I can’t tell. Don’t know. Not sure if I can hear the sea. Can you?”

She shrugged. “Me neither. I thought I could but …” Her voice tailed away. “We should come back one day when it’s stormy and stand by the sea. We could count the waves.”

We headed off through the dunes and sat in a beach café that had seen better days. It looked as if it hadn’t changed since the 1960s. The colourful and jolly exterior, once so full of promise and hope thirty or forty years ago, had long faded. All that remained were rusty signs and flaking paint falling from the walls. Sadness hung in the air, draped like mist. We were the only customers. Who else was going to be there on that Thursday lunchtime in October?

She stirred her tea slowly and looked out of the grimy window. The clouds were darker than before; a deeper shade of grey. The only sound in the café was the spoon clinking in her cup.

We sat quietly, not talking, lost in our own thoughts. I glanced through the window. The clouds seemed to be moving, ever so slowly, building up to something. Perhaps a storm was on the way.

She stopped stirring her tea and looked at me, her mind made up.

“I hate this silence,” she said. “There’s too much silence. It’s too quiet. I want to hear music. I need to hear music.”

She stood up and dragged her chair noisily across the floor, grabbing my hand and pulling me up. “Come on. Let’s go!”

As we walked outside, a strand of hair blew across her face. There was a fair old breeze. I looked up at the sky. The clouds were moving, definitely moving. She brushed the hair away from her eyes.

“Look!” she said, pointing towards the sea. “Look over there!”

Someone was flying a kite. A bright pillar-box red kite. A tiny, optimistic and defiant gesture of colour. A tiny fist of hope against the heavens.

She turned to me and smiled. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

 

Bananarama photo

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a post-rock band from Montreal. They have released five albums and one EP since 1994. Those are the facts. There’s no getting away from it.

But …

Is that it? Is that all there is? Why are Godspeed You! Black Emperor so special? Or maybe the question that should be asked instead of ‘why’ is ‘what’ makes Godspeed You! Black Emperor so very special?”

Or even ‘how’?

That’s a difficult one; but maybe, just maybe, it’s the one question that if we could find the answer to, then it would all make sense.

In the meantime, though, we’ve got five albums and music that sound like … what?

It’s the way you know that music should sound. It’s the music that you’ve been looking for your whole life. The music that you’ve been waiting to hear. Something that feels right. Something that makes sense.

It’s quiet music. Quiet music that’s not always quiet. Sometimes it’s very loud indeed. It takes a long time to get loud, but when it does, inside that loudness, deep inside that cacophony, there’s a quiet and calm stillness ever-present, underpinning it all.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s album titles and song titles don’t really make any sense. They’re a collection of random words. Or so it seems to me. But that doesn’t matter.

There’s no singing either. Just music. Sometimes that’s all we need.

And when you’ve heard it all, when you’ve listened to it all, you’ll ask yourself … how?

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor began with Efrim Menuck, Mauro Pezzente and Mike Moya in the early 90s, playing a handful of shows and recording a self-released cassette (All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling) as a trio before deciding to transform the group into a large band. Recruiting numerous Montreal musicians through 1995-1996, GYBE mounted sense-rattling wall-of-sound performances, featuring as many as 14 musicians and several 16mm film projectors, before recording their debut vinyl-only album in 1997. They transformed a warehouse space into the Hotel2Tango, a DIY hive of activity with band rehearsal rooms, silkscreen and wood shops, and weekend shows that took place under the radar. The group settled into a permanent nine-member line-up by late 1998, with Aidan and Bruce on drums, Thierry and Mauro on basses, Efrim, David and Roger on guitars, and Norsola and Sophie on cello and violin respectively. The band toured and recorded incessantly from 1998-2002 and gained a reputation for mesmerising live shows marked by orchestral dynamics, epic rock power and clunky, beautiful film loops. After four records, GYBE announced an indefinite hiatus in 2003; which lasted until December 2010, when the band returned to curate and performs at All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK … from the Constellation Records website

The band takes its name from God Speed You! Black Emperor, a 1976 Japanese black-and-white documentary by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi, which follows the exploits of a Japanese biker gang, the Black Emperors … extracted from Wikipedia

Efrim Menuck is also responsible for the creation of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (previously A Silver Mt. Zion, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir and Thee Silver Mountain Reveries) which formed in 1999 … their name is most often simplified to Silver Mt. Zion. extracted from Wikipedia

Godspeed You! Black Emperor photo two

 

Rick’s picks from GYBE CDs in more detail below

f♯ a♯ ∞ (pronounced “f-sharp, a-sharp, infinity”) (1997)
the dead flag blues: the dead flag blues (intro)

f♯ a♯ ∞ (pronounced “f-sharp, a-sharp, infinity”) (1997)
providence: dead metheny…

slow riot for new zero kanada (1999)
moya

lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven! (2000)
storm: lift yr. skinny fists, like antennas to heaven …

lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven! (2000)
storm: gathering storm / il pleut à mourir [+ clatters like worry]

lift yr. skinny fists like antennas to heaven! (2000)
antennas to heaven: she dreamt she was a bulldozer, she dreamt she was alone in an empty field

yanqui u.x.o. (2002)
rockets fall on rocket falls

yanqui u.x.o. (2002)
motherfucker=redeemer, part two

‘allelujah! don’t bend! ascend! (2012)
we drift like worried fire

asunder, sweet and other distress (2015)
asunder, sweet

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor official website

Godspeed You! Black Emperor biography (iTunes)

Read more about Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Rick’s “Totally Shuffled – A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod” available as a Kindle book here and in paperback here. He is also the author of a trilogy of books about going to the Glastonbury Festival: Turn Left at the Womble; Left Again at the Womble; Tea and Toast and Rock and Roll.

TopperPost #477

1 Comment

  1. Mat Baker
    Jan 24, 2019

    Rick – thanks for this. Sorry I’m three and half years too late. I have been listening to them for a couple of years now and knew nothing about them. It didn’t seem to matter who and what they are/were – the music is wonderfully deranged and oddly addictive. It’s a pity this sunk without a trace!

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