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16 February 2016

Godspeed You Black Emperor! ‎– 'Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada E.P.' (Constellation)

And here's where things started to get huge. Not just huge in sound, though it's very much that, but huge in terms of cultural impact. Of course, a large cultural impact in my world circa 1999 is a far cry from an actual cultural impact, like, for example, popular culture. Not that this was underground; Godspeed You Black Emperor! exploded at the right time - when records still mattered, things weren't totally digital, and enough of a groupthink existed to crown them as the new gods of the nearly-underground. I loved the first album and knew they were poised for a breakout; the moment I heard 'Moya', the 45rpm first side of this, I knew it had come. Everything that was great about F#A#∞ is present here! By this I mean the liberal use of violins and cellos, a brilliant application of field recordings and tape manipulations, a theme of dystopian decay, and a strong sense of landscape and sweeping romanticism. Everything that was weak about F#A#∞ has been fixed! While the pieces still have movements, they are not a lazy collage. While there's again a strongly dominant spoken voice, it's integrated into the music as an instrument rather than layered on top, so the band is dialoguing with these ideas. And there's two compositions, one of which tightens the soundscape vibe into an epic cinematic indie rock build, and the other which avoids the easy crescendos in favour of a horizontal composition. 'Moya' is built around one hell of a RIFF - though it takes its time to get there, instead opening with a lush, thick ambience that couldn't be done without these neoclassical instruments. It skates on the edge of eternity, not that long (this is 45rpm after all) but enough to build a pulse inside the listener as well as out of the speakers. And when that riff comes - a rising, anthemic crescendo that is supported by a thunderous, deep bass guitar and the string section filling out the midrange - it's unforgettable. Catchy and iconic, it's been etched into my brain ever since, and seeing it live the two times I did was breathtaking. It's the most 'accessible' track GYBE! ever made, though I write that having heard none of the recent albums after the one after this EP. Anyway. It's amazing, but then after a belt-change back to 33, the B-side, 'BBF3', takes things even further. The centrepiece of this is a recording of a clearly deranged man, an extremist for sure, ranting and raving about freedom and liberty and genreal libertarian insanity. It's impossible to hear this right now, February 2016, and not think about Donald Trump - the tonality of his voice is eerily similar and there's a phrase that is a chilling echo of Trump's line about Mexicans all being rapists 'and some of them,  I assume, are good people'. But it's not just this slightly humorous, mostly disturbing vocalisation that makes the track; it's the way the band creates an epic dialogue with it. It rises and falls like waves, resisting the impulse to explode into a distortion-laden wall of sound, and also keep the harmonic movement rather restrained. 'BBF3' feels like it's pulling itself apart in every direction, it's tonality echoing the chaos inherent in the narrator's worldview. For a band that uses apocalyptic imagery (and are no strangers to religious appropriation when possible -- see the cover art, which whatever it might say, uses the religiously-charged Hebrew alphabet) -- this is the thunderous summation of chaos and dystopia, an internalised fear and trembling that Mr. Finnegan expresses and represses. This is no longer mere soundtrack/soundscape music, no longer merely a darker, punker Morricone - this is a band who has managed to synthesise a vision, and made one side-long work of perfection. I often think of this as following the same formula as Sun City Girls' 'Napoleon and Josephine', which is also amazing and probably my favourite SCG song -- but it's also a different beast and a hell of a lot more breathtaking. Even after I had my backlash to them (which I'll describe in my next review) I would sometimes go back to 'BBF3', which is a work of perfection that is dark, unsettling, and beautiful - and yet addictive. And it lives forever on this slab of wax, one of those tracks that makes me feel justified in owning physical media still. Sure you can listen to all 18 glorious minutes on YouTube but it's not the same; this is a total package, putting the 'art' in 'art-rock' and I don't just mean the lavish packaging. It's a track that remains inspirational to me, to this day - a track to encourage me to attempt to scoop up the mess of data flowing through my brain, blood and heart at all times and regurgitate back something that someone, somewhere, might be able to parse with one iota of recognition for some sort of harmony with their own cracked/skewed impulses. God bless, Godspeed.

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