Saturday, August 27, 2011

Album Review: F#A#∞ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Is it worth a listen? Yes if you like instrumental music with a post-apocalyptic-symphonic sound or are feeling adventurous.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a Canadian band of musicians who make post-rock albums. This is their first work, and it is a mind-opening experience. This EP consists of only three songs, and yet it is an hour long. The songs, which can be more accurately described as symphonic works, grab your attention and don't let go. In a sense, the music almost seems like a movie, because each song tells a vague, absorbing story. The beginning track, "Dead Flag Blues," opens with a recitation of an apocalyptic nature, with atmospheric music in the background:

"The car is on fire, and there's no driver at the wheel
And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
And a dark wind blows"

Needless to say, the music assumes a dark tone that fits with the recitation. As you listen, the music draws you in with an impressive array of instruments, from banjo to cello and violin. Even the glockenspiel makes an appearance. The three tracks have their own movements, like a classical symphony, and yet they are distinctly similar to rock due to the presence of syncopated beats. Despite the many conventional rock instruments, the music is anything but derivative. Morose chords, minor-key melodies, and long moments of sadness are nevertheless so gorgeous that you will want to keep listening, because when the few major-key sections appear, the respite is that much sweeter.

Unlike many modern compositions in the classical music genre, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's music assumes you want to hear something beautiful, even if it is challenging to listen to. Downbeat and slow, but gradually building to the epic climaxes, F#A#∞ is special, precisely because it is so different. While referred to as post-rock, the music is genre bending in many ways, an is worth checking out if you want to have an adventure.

Worldview: While there are no sung lyrics, the beginning of every song has a recited passage, and these are often apocalyptic in tone. For example, the track "East Hastings" begins with a preacher literally yelling and speaking strangely, yet it is clear that the man is preaching Jesus Christ from his speech (this appears to be a live recording of a genuine preacher, but I honestly could not prove it). In the final track, "Providence," we hear a man discount the idea of a coming apocalypse because "I don't take stock in what the preacher man says." Overall, it's ambiguous. While dark in tone, the album is a great sonic adventure for someone who doesn't mind slow build up in their music.

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