interview in exclaim, 1999

"the car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel. and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. and a dark wind blows. the government is corrupt and we were all so many drunks with the radio on and the curtains drawn. we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death. the sun has fallen down and the billboards are all leering and the flagpoles are all dead at the top of their poles. it went like this..."

and so the begins "dead flag blues," the dramatic epic from the enigmatic, publicity-shy five-year old montreal instrumental tentet, godspeed you black emperor! from their 1997 debut album, f#a#oo( (originally issued on constellation records but re-released and remastered with an extra track by chicago's kranky records in 1998). the murmured drawl of this short apocalyptic sampled passage, with all its world-weary despair, comes courtesy of late tough guy actor, lee marvin. his haunting words, the only ones heard throughout this elegant sonic journey, conjure up a sense of doomed fatalism and dry sarcasm, worthy of william burroughs or a philip k. dick novel.

marvin's voice immediately establishes a startling sense of place and drama, and a prevailing mood of melancholy that swelling, saddening strings and sliding blues guitars pick up and carry on. the piece continues for another 16 minutes, ebbing and flowing from harsh, swirling, dissonant orchestral arrangements that recall krzyzsztof penderecki's "kanon for orchestra and tape," from the soundtrack to william friedkin's 1974 horror classic, the exorcist. in the next section, which features two guitarists, one executes a lone, tremolo guitar straight out of an ennio morricone score, while the other invokes ry cooder's repetitive slide guitar from that composer's desolate, dusty music for wim wender's 1984 film paris, texas.

beautifully composed and epic in scale, each piece is inherently visual as it moves gracefully through its different musical stages or vignettes. from avant-garde serialism, to country twang, to low-key ambience, to sonic youth-like crescendos. from the pastoral to the tumultuous. with its deliberate absence of lyrics and its abandonment of a traditional rock structures, the music flows like a score, a blank canvas for the listener to project his/hers emotional responses to these imagined scenarios.

"the record was definitely put together like a movie without pictures, but it wasn't extreme enough for me," explained godspeed member david bryant in a rare interview with the riverfront times in july of last year. "it is still primarily recorded music with some spoken text. one day i would really like to make a movie without pictures."

on their latest two-song ep, slow riot for new zero kanada, godspeed continue their alchemist fusion of radio documentary-like apocalyptic voice samples and slowly evolving and sublimely repetitive tragic melody lines that start as skeletal fragments and swell and crest in raging, majestic emotional climaxes.

(huge thanks to shawn morris for sending me this article).

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