I almost wrote about a whole bunch of other things here (my focus on schoolwork has kept me from writing many of these recently), chief among them the Music's exceptional (read: both very good and very out of the ordinary for them) "Breakin'" and Sweet Billy Pilgrim's stunning "Stars Spill Out Of Cups" (very near the top of my list for songs of the year right now).
But my rather frustrating experience with Horses In The Sky
has led me back towards A Silver Mount Zion's older material (I still call them that for brevity's sake) and even back to their musical papa, the mighty Godspeed You(!) Black Emperor(!). Godspeed is a band I have seriously mixed feelings for; live they were incredible and at their best on record they are one of the most elevating experiences you'll ever have.
It's a pity the rest of their records suck.
No, I'm being too harsh (and flippant); I got rid of F#A#(Infinity)
because it was too quiet and long and slow and because in this case all those qualities added up to boring. There were moments when I got it, yes, and honestly I'm glad that record came out when I was more impressionable and more likely to rush out and buy a record just because the reviews rubbed me the right way. Actually, I still do that; I suppose what I mean is that it's harder to find the reviews that do it for me. And of course the real reason I got rid of it was because by that time I had Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven!
, a truly monumental record, one of the finest albums of 2000 (maybe, if I go back and check the lists, the finest?), and one of which my happiest memory is a warm summer day at 92 Neeve Street with all other occupants departed, a blanket on the front lawn, reading The Crying Of Lot 49
for the first time and blasting "Storm", "Static", "Sleep" and "...Antennas To Heaven" out into the wider neighbourhood (and speaking of which, the Arcade Fire record still has yet to really grab me, which I'm sure any number of people would cite as proof of my pitiable state, but for now all I can say is that I like a few of the songs therein). Lift Yr Skinny Fists...
is so great and so complete
(so perfected, as Spinoza would say) that it obviates the need for much of the rest of Godspeed's work to date, it blots out their first record and also, I think, their most recent, Yanqui U.X.O.
, which sits forlornly on my shelf and has been listened to maybe twice, but as it was bought at their live show after I had been reduced to voiceless awe and as I think I recall Pete telling me it's actually great and as the last track (part two of "Motherfucker=Redeemer") is
undeniably great, I will give it a few more spins but I feel as if it is destined to hit the used record store.
And that, barring the subject of this entry, is it. All of Godspeed's discography to date. For a group that has had such a (deservedly) seismic impact on whatever we want to call actual alternative music since "alternative" is no longer viable, they really haven't done much at all. Circa July 2003 they went on hiatus for "the better part of a year", and they're not back yet. Honestly, I'm not sure if I want them to come back (any more than I want A Silver Mount Zion to continue on the path I fear they're on, towards "siege songs for fanatics, bunker music for when the authorities are closing in and the kool-aid is being passed around", although I'll always have their first two albums); if all they're going to do is continue to do the same thing, I think many of us will discover we don't have time for them any more. Lift Yr Skinny Fists...
is more than mere novelty, but one of the reasons it and the first album hit so hard it because they were different.
But I said in the Horses In The Sky
review (and had said before that) that it's not coincidence that Godspeed's two best releases are a double album and an EP, as if you don't have a full hour and a half to luxuriate in this music your best bet is a bite-sized piece, not a full hour-plus. And it's the EP I want to talk about, because almost more so than Lift Yr Skinny Fists...
it feels perfect (in the Latin sense of complete rather than ideal), a small package that could not possibly be added to or subtracted from without ruining it.
First, the facts: Two tracks in twenty-eight and a half minutes. "Moya" and "BBF3". Godspeed here are Aidan, Efrim, Mauro, Dave, Thierry, Bruce, Nosola, Sophie and Moya. Except in passing in the notes neither band nor song names are mentioned anywhere on the record; the spine simply says Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP
. Recorded in Toronto with Dale Morningstar, which is interesting to say the least (Morningstar's The Dinner Is Ruined is one of the weirder Canadian bands of the late 90s, or so I hear). The tactile: Printed on black cardboard, somehow lustrous, with gorgeous bronze inlay on front and back. Either mine is printed backwards or the Hebrew script that everywhere else displays as the front of the EP is the back, and instead the front is a diagram of a Molotov Cocktail in Italian ("Miccia", "Benzine" and "Sabbia + Sapone"). Inside is Bible verse and notes and thank yous.
"Moya" starts with drones and sad strings until the first motif is picked up, bells in the background, sadder and sadder, guitars and drums trying to lift, but if it flies it flies crooked; and the martial build up, suddenly, drums going and cymbals steadily cooking until at 8:28 the sky clears and they all repeat together, all up into the sky; the single moment that anchors the rest of Godspeed's sound, that justifies the build up; and then cello die off, crunchy repetition, that simple phrase made huge. Ten minutes that encapsulate the sound of the band, at least then, that remain the
single track to point the curious to. It ends with falling strings; the song is "dedicated to the disappeared cats of mile end" in the inside of the EP. If it is not the best thing Godspeed have ever done than it is at least close to it, or related to it. It is designed, Dave once told the Wire, to be played very loudly.
[From notes: let's build fallen cathedrals + make impossible plans...
"BBF3" is partly a sick joke; the titular figure ranting in the background for longer than strictly necessary, the interviewer egging him on. Are we supposed to agree? Sympathize? Does the interviewer? Does the band? Politics are always difficult, especially if like me there is so much you agree on with Godspeed and so much you dont. Slower, more Mogwai-like (circa Young Team
) at the beginning. And then; violins like locusts. Lazy guitar figures. Slow crescendoes. Tolling bells and Blaise Bailey Finnegan III is back again. He lists his guns and, in the form of telling us his "poetry", recites a Megadeath song. Things chime softly in the background. As the man fades out, the intstruments (almost literally, it sounds like) gather steam. An endless cry; all the rage you've ever felt, all the despair at how things are, every failed effort. And then it ends and the ghosts of strings echo back the way you feel at too late at night or too early in the morning, every time you disappoint yourself. They almost become pretty, but there's always a keen edge. Softer now, slowly.
Nearly twice as long as "Moya", and not quite as amazing (because what is?), but still it tears at your heart, even with the silly man yelling at judges. Whatever you think of their politics, Godspeed have always been a very emotionally complex and nuanced band, and "BBF3" no less so. It is, unlike their earlier material, perfectly paced. The man in it calls for the collapse of civilization, or at least thinks it will happen (is there a difference?), and the feeling persists. Odd that until today it never occurred to me that Godspeed's best work happened prior to September 11, 2001, and yet how some of what seemed once like scorched-earth paranoia now seems just part of the background count. Yanqui U.X.O.
almost isn't apocalyptic enough
; one feels they've scaled back, going after arms manufacturers and record companies. Here, and elsewhere, they take on life itself.
I beheld the earth,
And, lo, it was waste and void;
And the heavens, and they had no light.
I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled,
And all the hills moved to and fro.
I beheld, and, lo, there was no man,
And all the birds of the heavens were fled.
I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful field was a wilderness
And all the cities thereof were broken down
At the presence of the LORD,
And before His fierce anger.
For thus saith the LORD:
The whole land will be desolate;
Yet I will not make a full end.
[The hydra-headed Godspeed represents such a wide variety of opinion and political persuasion that virtually every statement is echoed or prefaced with the rejoinder that it's only "one person's opinion".
David Keenan, the Wire]