godspeed you black emperor!
godspeed you! black emperor
Whatever you want to call them, godspeed you! black emperor evoke hope and fear in their music. It isn’t the only duality they evoke: regret/desire, wealth/poverty, stillness/movement, life/death, etc. They’ve done this all without a lead singer in the band. The primary way they reinforce these topics is through song names, album packaging, and the assortment of samples and spoken word pieces found in the music itself.
With the release of “Luciferian Towers” upon us, I wanted to look back over godspeed you! black emperor’s twenty year career to highlight their achievements up to this point. Additionally, I’ve included details about each album’s vinyl packaging to provide more detail into the albums that a typical online stream will never provide.
(Excessive amounts of information beyond this point acquired through Wikipedia)
Year Released: 1997
Vinyl Contents: (1) LP; (1) locomotive etching; (1) manilla envelope containing (1) Canadian penny flattened on train tracks, (1) tour flyer, (1) sheet of liner notes, (1) blueprint for “faulty schematics of ruined machine”
Overview: The album title references the opening notes of the A and B side of the record, while the infinity sign references the locked groove at the end of side B that technically makes the album run-time infinite. This is easily the most unique release in gy!be’s discography as the vinyl version and CD version contain slightly different songs. The vinyl version is completely unlabeled aside from the inner ring etchings reading “Nervous, Sad, Poor…” on Side A and “Bleak, Uncertain, Beautiful…” on Side B. The CD version has three tracks: “Dead Flag Blues” / “East Hastings” / “Providence”. Yet, the real track names lie in the movement names that are apparently in the CD version, but I only know through Wikipedia. Ultimately, the key parts of this album are “Dead Flag Blues (Intro)” / “The Cowboy…” / “The Sad Mafioso…” and the aforementioned Infinity Loop.
Author’s Opinions: I revisit this album the least. The notable difference between the more than an hour long CD version versus the vinyl version being one of the reasons. Ultimately, it’s because this album is gy!be at its early beginnings. I feel comfortable saying, 20 years after its release, that the band has surpassed the quality of the recordings on F#A#∞ multiple times since. That shouldn’t take away from this album, as it does lay out the blueprint (literally and figuratively) of how a godspeed you! black emperor song sounds.
“Dead Flag Blues” is the primary piece of evidence, as the spoken word bit at the very beginning of this album is lifted from an unfinished screenplay by band member Efrim Menuck. Which is to say, it’s the only bits of spoken word on any of their albums that comes straight from one of its band members. It spells out the themes loud and clear and they’ve managed to instill those themes on every subsequent release.
I still prefer the vinyl version, if only because the Infinity portion of the title actually makes sense on the vinyl recording. It’s a dark, pulsing hum that loops at the album’s conclusion. It spells out the band’s demands so clearly on their very first album: you will have to stop this recording yourself because God’s Pee will continue forever.
Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada
Year Released: 1999
Vinyl Contents: (1) LP with custom sleeve; (1) sheet containing dialogue between four voices
Overview: Not quite their sophomore release, godspeed you! black emperor followed up their debut album with an EP. Containing two songs, “moya” & “bbf3”, the A-side of the vinyl spins at 45rpm to accommodate the shorter run time on “moya” while the B-side spins at a traditional 33rpm for the more average (by God’s Pee standards) “bbf3”. The song “bbf3” features an interview with a vociferous man from Providence, Rhode Island that goes by the name “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”. During the song, he tells of himself, a court experience and recites a poem that lifts lines from the Iron Maiden song “Virus” written by then-vocalist Blaze Bayley.
Author’s Opinion: This was my introduction to the band, specifically the album’s B-side “bbf3”. I’ll spare you the details, but the song in question is still, to this day, one of the most quintessential godspeed you! black emperor songs in their catalogue. The spoken word performance is riveting and grabbed my attention immediately. Any listener’s attention is rewarded twice by the two massive peaks the band conjures. Yet, the music itself still seems to be in service of Mr. BBF3 himself. It sure seems like gy!be hit the jackpot with this interview, as BBF3 is heard on “Providence”, a song from the CD version of F#A#∞.
This EP felt like the end of a particular period for gy!be, it being released at the end of the 20th century notwithstanding. Opening track “moya” felt as condensed a version of a typical gy!be song as we’d ever get. Yet, even at its 10-minute run-time, you couldn’t help but think they were better off giving us more.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Year Released: 2000
Vinyl Contents: (2) LPs with custom sleeves; (1) chart outlining the entire album’s movements
Overview: A double album by both CD and LP standards, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven is godspeed you! black emperor’s longest album. It contains four songs, “Storm” / “Static” / “Sleep” / “Antennas To Heaven”, spread across each side of the double vinyl. Further movements within each song are listed in a diagram drawn within the album’s gatefold.
Author’s Opinion: This is as good as it gets not only in the godspeed you! black emperor discography, but arguably all of music that has ever existed. It’s easy to get hyperbolic with this album as it honest to God contains a sort of power that was hinted at on their earlier releases, but may have gotten a bit out of hand on this record.
The easiest way to explain this album’s greatness is with the true fact about how I listened to the first two songs (“Storm” & “Static”) thinking that was the entire album for almost half a year. I thought that was the entire album and I STILL thought it was amazing. Naturally, when I finally heard “Sleep” & “Antennas To Heaven” what other option did I have but to realize it was one of the greatest albums I’d ever heard. It still is…
One of the reasons I was so satisfied with the album’s first half is the movement labeled “Chart #3” contained within the second track “Static”. It’s best to hear it for yourself, but it’s the one spoken word piece in all of the gy!be discography that best describes the “God” portion of their name.
Opening track “Storm” is so well done that when the song runs out of gas near the end, a sample of a voice at a fucking gas station enters the mix, implying that the band ran out of gas one song in so they needed to fuel up to get through the rest of the album. Well, not really. The spoken word bit is really meant to bring forth imagery of the homeless as a counterpoint to the beautiful divinity God’s Pee conjured up minutes earlier. It is give and take with this band, but they were most assuredly in the giving mood on this epic.
Year Released: 2002
Vinyl Contents: (2) LPs; (1) piece of paper containing liner notes
Overview: The band’s third album would be their last for quite some time. It was recorded with Steve Albini, who also recorded Nirvana’s third and final album. The vinyl version and CD version slightly differ as the CD version cuts up the first and last songs into two parts, while the vinyl version has “09-15-00” & “Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls” on the A & B-sides respectively, while “Motherfucker=Redeemer” is split into two parts. The second part on the vinyl version has an extended intro and a hidden outro containing an interpolation of a chopped up George W. Bush speech and a child asking questions.
Author’s Opinion: This album caught some flak. Most notably it had the mistake of being released during Pitchfork’s edgier timeline, receiving a 5.6 from the site’s fucking founder because an instrumental band wasn’t being political enough. Admittedly, time’s had changed drastically in America. Since gy!be’s previous album, George W. Bush entered office and 9/11 happened. It felt like godspeed you! black emperor were the perfect band to make sense of it all. Alas, those expecting so much clearly missed the point. The band had been prophesying the grisly future of America since “BBF3” in 1999. Only problem is that it’s not a great feeling to know you were right about the future being so bleak. It’s generally a bummer.
But Yanqui U.X.O. isn’t a TOTAL bummer. Sure, it lacks the spoken word bits that most listeners had come to expect from them. Instead, it contained some of the band’s biggest compositions, likely trying to keep up with the impossible standards they set for themselves on their previous album. “rockets fall on Rocket Falls” is as classic a gy!be song as any, while the second half of “motherfucker=redeemer” challenges any gy!be album closer as the best.
What was a subtle note at the time was at the end of the sheet of paper included in the album, godspeed you! black emperor signed off with a “goodbye.” It would be the last we would hear from this band for quite some time.
Hiatus / Intermission
Author’s Note: After releasing Yanqui U.X.O. the band followed through on the hints located in the album and went on an indefinite hiatus. They would not tour or release any albums for the remainder of the decade. The closest we came to new gy!be material was in 2008 when Seth Rogen screamed into a telephone at his then movie girlfriend during Pineapple Express that she was going to run off to college and listen to The Shins and godspeed you! black emperor. I recall jerking upright in my theater seat when he said it. By 2008, that band name carried some weight. God’s Pee still mattered a lot to many music fans and were, especially then, sorely missed.
But as the infinite loop on F#A#∞ would lead you to believe, this band wasn’t finished.
It wouldn’t be until the beginning of the following decade that the band agreed to perform at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2010. That show would lead to a minor tour, one that I would fly to San Francisco to see in 2011 because I had no idea if this would be a once and done occurrence. The band would continue to tour through 2012, when later in the year, concert attendees at one of their shows reported gy!be were selling an album containing new material at their merchandise booth.
‘ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND!
Year Released: 2012
Vinyl Contents: (1) 12″ LP with custom sleeve; (1) 7″ LP with custom sleeve; (1) sheet of various film frames
Overview: godspeed you! black emperor’s fourth album was released nine years and eleven months after their third album. It contains four songs, two of which were the longer tracks on the full LP, while the other two shorter songs were pressed onto the 7″ LP. The full album integrates them together, so each major song has a minor outro. By spreading these songs across two different records, the album could be played in sequence on two turntables without interruption. Reportedly, the two major songs on this album had been heard previously at their live shows, leading many to believe these songs had been written for quite some time.
Author’s Notes: It’s impressive how not having something for 10 years makes you appreciate it so much more. What made this album so impressive was how it seamlessly slipped next to their previous discography, creating the illusion that 10 years hadn’t passed at all. The true evolution contained on this album is gy!be’s decision to separate the drone-heavy ambient portions into their own tracks, leaving the two main courses as potent as possible.
It’s a revelation that makes the 10 year wait understandable. To discover a subtle yet new way to present their music, it feels like a call back to the simpler approach taken with Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada. Realizing that making another 4-song behemoth like Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven was more than unlikely at this point in their lives, the band found a way to maintain their aesthetic integrity. At the same time, apparently finding an easier way to release albums faster than one every 10 years.
‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’
Year Released: 2015
Vinyl Contents: (1) LP with custom sleeve
Overview: Sticking with the approach set forth on their previous record, ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ contains four songs: two typical gy!be tracks and two drone-heavy ambient songs. Rather than having the two more ambient pieces acting as outros, the two ambient tracks act as an outro to the opening track and intro to the finale.
Author’s Opinion: I doubt I was alone at being surprised godspeed you! black emperor were releasing another album less than three years after their previous. Considering the previous 10 year wait, it seemed like reason to celebrate. Again, the band wasn’t shooting for the most grandiose heights of their earlier work, rather choosing to further explore the sequencing approach they uncovered on their previous record.
Notably, opening track “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'” has the shortest intro of any gy!be song before getting to that sweet cacophonous bliss we’ve grown all too accustom to at this point in the band’s career. As much as I appreciate God’s Pee experimenting with the two big song / two drone song combo, it does seem putting the two drone songs back to back causes the album to slag off in the midsection. It all comes correct by the finale, but their approach on the previous album worked a bit better. Of note, the A-side of the record does end with an infinite loop, a welcome throwback to gy!be’s first album.
Still, it was a welcome surprise to receive new godspeed you! black emperor for the second time in the decade. It meant they got to go on tour again, which happened to be the first concert I witnessed after moving to Denver. I only mention this because if you’re still reading at this point, you realize how important that show ended up being to me.
Year Released: 2017
Vinyl Contents: Unknown
Overview: godspeed you! black emperor will release their sixth full length album today. Despite the album tracklisting showing three part suites for two of the songs (a first for the band), the four songs will likely be broken in half on the vinyl’s A & B side.
Author’s Opinion: Don’t have one! I have abstained from listening to this album in advance as, by now, you clearly see this band wants you to hear its music on vinyl. Co-workers here at Blocland assure me it is in step with their previous output, and at this juncture, I doubt this band is even capable of disappointment. They’ve already set the highest bar for themselves that they will likely never overcome, yet they’ve managed to find a new way to get their music released in the current decade. I feel the revelation they had before releasing ‘ALLELUJAH! DON’T BEND! ASCEND! is what allowed them to release their now third album this decade. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this band had another album ready to go in 2020. Given our current political climate, gy!be must be full steam ahead.
I’m drifting. Now is the point to get excited about NEW songs from this band. I already feel like “Luciferian Towers” will slip into their discography seamlessly. If I leave you with one thing to ponder, it’s this: “Luciferian Towers” is the band’s sixth album. Meaning their next album will be their seventh…
…godspeed you! black emperor’s God LP?
Or will the loop continue to pulse?