Sunday, 5 August 2012

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F#A#∞

 

It's a guarantee that in some parallel Universe somewhere in the spin of infinite realities, the World may in fact come to an end late this coming December. It's unclear how or even why it will, but the premise is something that, possibly, could finally be fulfilled and become its own reality upon its coming. There may well be cars on fire (with no drivers at the wheel), dark winds blowing and beautiful skylines on fire across its many lands. But amidst all that chaos and desolate echo of past life, it still will all undoubtedly fall as nothing short of a murmur as to the true and often mammoth foretelling of the end of the World as was, and still is, expressed in the words of arguably Canada's most surprising success exports...here, in our own Universe. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or GY!BE for short, came to light at a time when things really were starting to turn a vast shade darker in our ever changing, ever-more closer-to-self-destruction state. On reflection, we have indeed become trapped in the belly of a horrible machine that itself is bleeding to death. Yet no one saw it coming, why/how should they? Yet, in 1997, a collective of bright and talented Canadian musicians were there to not only spell out what may well be described as the premise for such a negatively apocalyptic foreshadowing, but so too present it to us in the most dynamic, and most provoking of musical senses. 'F#A#∞' (pronounced F-sharp A-sharp infinity) is the culmination of that work, and a monumental one at that.

From the first low-murmured drone and deepened tone of a monologue in the intro to what is the first of this album's three pieces, 'The Dead Flag Blues', everything is cast into shadow - cast into this unnerving unpalatable deliverance of concept and story-telling. The moan of violins and cellos, the distant strum of guitars, all of it comes together in a slow and faint burning of a flame all but extinguished. The intensity to the way these sounds cinematically open and close so drastically and dramatically against the haze of storytelling, is incredible and raises only greater admiration in that it marks only the first third of, what would later become on its expanded release, a more-than-sixty-minute composite of sound, technique and execution. But it's not just the music that creates such a testing and textured atmosphere to what is already is a rich and darkening mold of bluesy spaghetti-western-type progression. The roar of a steam train passing by - leading on into the moping and horrific gloom of further strings via 'Slow Moving Trains' only emphasizes the internal confliction of emotion - of sorrow and anger as equally it is with acceptance and denial - that will inevitably become a recurring theme running through the record, as is the case with 'The Cowboy', guitars now growing in stature with the treading of percussion continuing to beat away amidst the swallowing depth of strings.

But it's 'East Hastings', the second movement - and arguably, the most iconic and worthy-example to Godspeed's unfathomable talent - that demonstrates the power of this album's content. Opening up to sweeping passes of traffic and the continuing preaches of religion and faith, a lonely and quite volatile bagpipe deafens the nature of the metropolis sound until the music begins to slowly fade into ambient-like experimentalism of instrumentation and mood. 'The Sad Mafioso', as it is officially known, begins. And from here, is where the album truly becomes monumental in both internal struggle and external eruption. What starts as a small almost-humble exchange of guitar strings - against an unsettling waver of distant string sounds - slowly but surely begins to grow. As the dynamics of strings increase, so too does the percussion accompanying it.

Soon though, the formulaic construct for what would later be recognized as the markings of a genre we now know (and love) as post-rock. Steady layerings of guitar and drums; cellos and violins adding intensity and uncertainty to its progression; erratic and sudden changes in volume and execution. All of it comes together in a deepening foray of musical exchange so much so that it's almost feels as if the situation itself has become one massive confrontation. On one side, the emotive conceptualization of violins and cellos, and on the other the ferocious contextualization of the roar and energetic guitar and drum playing. Instantaneously, the track erupts - tempo and pacing increasing with every passing second until what was once a gentle exchange, soon becomes enthralled in this chaotic melee of layered sound. Faster, and faster; more and more. And once more, the switch to an almost surreal usage of spoken recordings makes the experience that little more daunting on the listener. For it's not just the substance that catch the listener off-guard here, but so too the journeying from one sub-sector of this whole story, to the next.

There have been many a concept album, but there have never been albums that manage to flow in the same inky opaqueness of solidarity that F#A#∞ does so well. Before you would come to a record and hear up to, maybe, twelve completely different periods all broken off from each other - all at different times and all completely dependent and reliant on numerous other attributes. Here though, the album is one with itself; free-flowing and expansive yet unilateral. It's a story that never ceases or silences its original voice, its original tone. And that is what marks the passing between each of these movements as so incredible. 'Providence's opening may sound lost and dormant in its isolated-esque drone. Yet coming from out of the album's foray of sound as both experience and endurance, the feelings radiating off this are all too familiar. It's a familiarity however that doesn't expand to the point where we know where the album will take us. 'Kicking Horse on Brokenhill' marks itself as one of the finest, most rewarding and...without a doubt...one of the greatest pieces of simply-statured progressively-built guitar-and-drums rock ever created. Again, the feeling is one of comforting solitude, yet the band refute any suggestion of timid expression and continue to build it up. Eventually, what starts as a brooding cry of strings, wailing riffs and climbatizing drum hits, soon explodes into this ferocious and destructive outpouring of every possible emotion: happiness, sadness, fear, regret, anger, despair, loss...it emits them all in such a short space of time with such little change in chord and notation structure. And yet, the power and the passion of its drive creates an emphatic atmosphere to the point where the listener can truly feel as if the entire album has been one great build-up in itself - and it's been a build-up to that particular moment.

The distant echo of 'where are you going?' only adds to the confusion of such an outpouring. It's no surprise then that the album leaves four minutes of silence in its trail, before the album closes on one final billowing of guitar-fuelled execution and energy. And it's no surprise too, that it should end on such an event. There have been countless records, and countless more artists who often find that narrowing confine of sound or expression that not just tugs, but tears away at that invisible veil of interconnectivity we can have on music as a non-visual non-physical medium. None, however, have approached it, torn at it and then reanimated it in such a provoking context as GY!BE. 'F#A#∞' then, will mark itself in both story and sound, as an album of immeasurable atmosphere and intensity. It's an album for the heart as much as it is the ear. And regardless of the themes it may or may not suggest or provide for us to spool over, it is a record that can be recognized for its experimental approach to composition as much as it can for its sought-after ferocity in execution and deliverance. And as I reach the ending minutes of this record on a humid summer evening - the darkened skies ever expanding beyond the visible horizon outside - the connectivity I feel with this record, will remain as strong and indecipherable as it was on first listen.
~Jordan

9.7

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