reviews of slow riot for new zero kanada

cafe bliss
new york times
now magazine
the onion
the washington post

chunky andi, cafe bliss, spring 1999

well, here we go once again. my constant rambling on about these canadian visionaries continues at pace. you‘ll already know of my love of this band so the prospect of some new material was as worrying as it was exciting. in terms of music i can think of nothing worse than having one of your fave bands knocking out a real stinker after an unexpected classic so i always approach follow ups with a sense of caution or even dread.

thankfully i can report that this thirty-ish minute ep of two more outstanding and lengthy instrumental bliss fests really is a fitting follow up to the breathtaking f#a# infinity album. this ep is partly the reason that this issue has been a little late, i desperately wanted to be one of the first to bring you a review of this record as I know most of you are amongst their biggest fans like myself. so big thanks to the lads at constellation for taking the time and effort to send me a test pressing just for this purpose, it‘s appreciated as you know! right, so what‘s it like?, well i think you‘ll have a pretty good idea already..

'moya' is the delightful track on side a, fourteen minutes long and hauntingly beautiful. an annoying clicking sound appears at the start under a deep humming drone, gradually the violins and cellos glide into range with their cheerless and distant strains, like the sound of the earth burning as it draws its last breath beneath a dripping red sky. slowly a single guitar emerges from the dark, and strums out a deathly end as in the distance a xylophone tinkles and a sudden calm appears, like a ray of sunlight through the thick dirty air, the bass and drums appear and start pounding a rhythm like weary legs after a heavy fall, stretching out for survival and a clue of where to go, they rise and start looking for a new home as the sound once more begins to grow to a crescendo and once more they‘re crushed cruelly without hope. if the millennium commission decide to score a piece of music for the end of the world then i think maybe, just maybe that it‘s already been written and waiting to be asked...

side two is a track called 'BBF3', clocking in at about seventeen minutes it‘s equal parts inspiring, despairing and beautiful. dedicated to the disappeared cats of mile end it flickers into life over a haunting, desolate drone, a spoken field recording from what appears to be a conspiracy theorist/street preacher emerges. recorded on the streets in providence he talks as the background music grows with customary grace and vision, violins court battle with hushed drum beats, rolling cymbals and picked guitar. slowly the sound disperses into a quiet empty void where guitar strings bend slowly with your mind as you try and guess where the songs going next. slowly the guitars begin to strum and fall in place with the distant drums growing into an euphoric swirling mass of noise with marching beats, it builds and builds to sound like you‘re reaching out for the top of the world, then slowly it begins to fall back, deeper and deeper into a bottomless void where just a piano idly plays with the re-emergence of the rambling street preacher and his gun toting tales. as he recites a captivating poem at speed over the piano and strings, the guitars start to re-emerge from the quiet almost unnoticed, at first just quietly strumming but building all the time, slowly, until it‘s all hands on deck as it grows into a giant ball of sound, rolling drums merge with everything else into a final fury of fucked up noise, intense controlled feedback sparing no thought for subtlety or restraint. as you begin to accept the end is near and the wall of sound starts to die you are left catching your breath whilst the ghostly final sounds emerge, soulless strings begin to swirl and glide like vultures picking on a fresh corpse. superb!

mitch myers, magnet, july 1999

remember phil spector's legendary "wall of sound"? how the svengali producer would create three-minute symphonies by cramming loads of instruments around the voices of ronnie spector or tina turner or the righteous brothers? (and all in mono, no less.) well forget the arbitrary time limits, passionate singing voices and goshdarned mono: godspeed you black emperor! is a nine-piece instrumental ensemble that produces a modern "wall of sound" that's completely cinematic, incredibly powerful and exquisitely imposing. on the follow-up to f#a# infinity, this dedicated legion of guitarists, bassists, drummers and string players continues to utilize the recorded ravings of north america's inveterate dispossessed as a backdrop for its theatrical innuendo. the band's unified thrashing is particularly breathtaking, and its atmospheric theatrics often take on a much-larger-than-life sonic identity. forgive the mathematical/musical corollary, but these canny canucks resemble the dirty three times three. while only providing us with two compositions and a half-hour's worth of music, this ep is particularly representative of what godspeed sounds like live. dramatic, focused and exuding a most innate physicality, the band is a living soundtrack just searching for the proper film on which to bestow its havoc. what does it sound like? sonic youth and kronos quartet performing ennio morricone compositions, what else?

david peschek, mojo, september 1999

two - very long - songs on this mini-album; a companion piece to their quiet, loud, quiet, very loud! debut f#a#oo.

there are nine of them, they're from canada. their second proper release (their actual debut was a cassette of which only a handful of copies exist) operates in the unexpected terrain between stasis and rupture - as explored by scott walker on tilt - and the vistas of slint's increasingly influential spiderland. in fact, it's not hard to imagine scott inhabiting these dramatic, but unshowy, neo-classical pieces. fiercely private, relentlessly experimental - they'd probably get on, too. moya, the shorter of the two tracks at 10-plus minutes, is almost baroque, blaise bailey finnegan III threads the anti-establishment rant ("america is a third-world country") of a found vocal through gently evolving chimes that veer away from resolution before springing a thunderous finale. if you find mogwai dreary and uninvolving, this, exquisitely, is the real deal.

(thanks to charles curtis for sending me this review)

tony scherman, the new york times, may 1999

with the five major labels and their subsidiaries increasingly devoted to blockbusters, pop-music listeners in search of new sounds have to follow their ears into the commercial netherworld of independent labels. godspeed you black emperor!, a nine-piece band (three electric guitarists, two double bassists, two violinists and two drummers) from montreal, is affiliated with kranky records of chicago and the equally tiny constellation records of montreal.

the band, which took its name from a japanese motorcycle gang, recently released its third recording, a two-song ep entitled 'slow riot for new zero kanada.' i first heard 'slow riot' while driving at night down an empty stretch of highway: the perfect setting for this alternately forlorn and exhilarating music.

godspeed's sound, built on a few simple, endlessly repeated chord sequences, is superficially similar to the minimalism of philip glass and the electric-guitar choirs of glenn branca. yet godspeed's anguished melodicism and hellbent abandon give its music a searing immediacy that makes it more likely to appeal to rock fans than the work of either composer.

nominally two tracks, 'slow riot' is in fact a single, 28-minute piece. it starts with a slow drone by basses and violins. the bassists bows rattle ominously. when the guitars and drums kick in, the music turns glistening, martial; taking its time, it builds to a roaring crescendo. after a hushed interlude, an anti-government crank delivers a long, disoriented rant (according to its publicity notes, godspeed avidly collects this sort of found material), followed by a second crescendo.

even slower-building than the first, it peaks in a devastating stoptime section, the whole band abruptly dropping out except for a single screaming guitar. the record's climax, this must be an overwhelming moment in concert. the maelstrom drains away, and what sounds at first like a renewal hymn, quiet violins and voices, turns eerie and creepy as if nuclear-blast survivors, stunned and infected, were wandering in a blighted landscape.

although godspeed's music incorporates improvisation, it certainly isn't jazz; although it relies largely on rock's instruments and vocabulary, it's not rock, either. it's the first music i've heard in a long time to make me feel that new, vernacular musical languages are slowly working themselves out.

victoria segal, nme, april 1999

no words = no politics - that appears to be the crux of criticisms recently levelled against mogwai. criticisms that, basically, miss the point by the space of a small continent, as testified to afresh by their montreal kin godspeed you black emperor!. for like last year's album 'f#a# infinity', 'slow riot for new zero kanada' is pure emotional documentary, replacing grainy super-8 with violin and glockenspiel, ditching facts and statistics for the rage of a man taped on a street in providence. providence,of all places. "for thus saith the lord: the whole land shall be desolate yet i will not make a full end," read the apocalyptic sleevenotes, taken from jeremiah. "to attack someone's mind is a social disorder," says blase bailey finnegan III, field recording and namesake of the second and final track on this record. For in godspeed's worldview, everyone's a marginal prophet. words, though, are beside the point - their lexicon of faith, misery, hope and tenacity is written in every glockenspiel chime, in each intimate drone, in the build and fade and build. few words doesn't mean nothing to say, and whether the fierce stringed defiance of 'moya' or the ectoplasmic tape static of 'BBF3', they might sometimes go quiet, but they're not going anywhere gently. it's impossibly beautiful music for plain impossible times. yes, we are a long way from home. but here, in this low and lovely noise, is a place to keep you warm.

matt galloway, now magazine, march 1999

what was so remarkable initially about the debut by nine-piece montreal art-noise orchestra godspeed you black emperor! was how the record‘s delirious soundscapes seemed to come out of nowhere, taking ages to build but never really losing focus. much of that feel came from the three-year period the album was culled from. capturing that sensation again on a new recording would be nearly impossible, yet while the setting has shifted somewhat, slow riot is hardly a disappointment.

composed during a scrappy north american tour, the two lengthy tracks here add a more visceral edge to godspeed‘s languid ambience. buzzing guitars trade melodies with weeping strings, glockenspiels and xylophones, again gradually building up a remarkable dramatic tension broken only by sporadic bursts of noise and field recordings of disenchanted americans. footage of an endlessly unfolding desert highway would be a nice complement, but in the meantime, dream up your own visuals.

stephen thompson, the onion, april 1999

eps recorded between studio albums are often little more than filler-bespattered singles conceived to dupe collectors and completists into acquiring an act's every needless remix and outtake. but that doesn't mean slow riot for new zero kanada, a two-song set by the montreal band godspeed you black emperor!, isn't remarkably essential. with guitars, drums, and an assortment of strings, the instrumental group's nine members build the 11-minute "moya" and 17-minute "blaise bailey finnegan III" into diverse, shape-shifting, mood-swinging epics. opening with creeping, beautiful strings, "moya" slowly dissipates into languid quietude before swelling into a full-blown orchestral arrangement--albeit one with loud electric guitars--that recalls a more refined variation on dirty three's cataclysmic instrumental explosions. the song eventually bleeds seamlessly into "blaise bailey finnegan III," which at first seems like a bit of a throwaway: behind a dissonant soundtrack of guitars and strings, a paranoid, anti-government conspiracy theorist rants, tells stories, talks about his guns, and reads a scary poem. the music feels secondary, even perfunctory, until about 12 minutes in, when gybe! takes over and delivers the apocalypse the narrator suggests is coming. it may be a low-priced ep, but slow riot for new zero kanada delivers more intensely beautiful moments than you'll find just about anywhere else for twice the price.

mark jenkins, washington post, september 1999

portions of godspeed you black emperor's slow riot for new zero kanada resemble (labradfords) e luxo so, although this montreal group favors harsher timbres than its richmond counterpart. beguilingly enigmatic enough to have been labeled "the last great band of the century" by britain's trend-hungry new musical express, gybe! tends to gradually amplify from its pastoral passages to epic crescendos. the first of the two long pieces on slow riot follows the slow-building strategy of scottish art-noise favorites mogwai.

the second composition, which runs almost 18 minutes, is less linear. unfortunately, it's dominated by the comments of an american malcontent the band apparently met while touring. the purpose of integrating such "narratives" into its music is to be "documentary," the band members have said, but these comments are hardly worth documenting, and definitely discourage repeated listening.

top of page