Godspeed You! Black Emperor Reviews

These are my reviews of every Godspeed You! Black Emperor studio album with one notable exception. I have not listened to their infamous, legendary demo tape which was released in 2022. I usually only create these pages for bands whom I’ve reviewed their complete discography but this demo doesn’t really count, right?

1997/1998: F#A# Infinity (9/10)

Note: this album was originally released in 1997 as a rarely heard vinyl record which was 1/3 shorter than the CD version which I is the version I have always known. I must say that, in terms of the original 1997 version, it’s hard to get too excited about a record whose best track is missing.

The first proper GYBE!/GY!BE album is a perfect introduction to their immense, mysterious, powerful sound. The pieces are often slightly more obvious as suites than later work, but that’s hardly a criticism. Frankly, I don’t know of too much music out there like this at the time – it’s contemporary post rock taken to it’s logical conclusion.

I categorized this as a 1998 release because of the reasons above, so check out all my 1998 album reviews.

1999: “Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada E.P.” (8/10)

As others have noted on RYM, this EP from GY!BE is a bit of a mixed bag: on the other hand we have one of their very best pieces, on the other we have a piece which, at times, works very well, but is really long and the best elements of it are sometimes lost in the experience of listening to the field recording.

“Moya” is perhaps the best thing GY!BE had recorded to date – though I haven’t listened to the debut in a year or so, I do feel like it shows development from the debut. As others have noted, it is also relatively restrained for this band – that’s a positive for some, not necessarily for others, but it does demonstrate that they do have a little more sophistication than a critic might allege. (At least I think so, but then I am a huge fan of this band.)

The second track is more problematic, featuring moments of incredible… pathos, let’s call it, for the man featured in the field recording, but entirely too much of his ramblings for a piece of music. If you want to here something like this done really well – sort of a musical short story or documentary – featuring some of the same musicians, I suggest “Whaling Tale” from Valley of the Giant’s self-titled release (their one and only). That being said, I still think this pieces works more than it doesn’t, though I have heard it so may times that I’ve likely become immune to its faults at this stage.

Even with the excessive length and dialogue of the second track, I’d still highly recommend this and I consider it part of the band’s required oeuvre, in spite of its faults. I think there is enough here to seek it out, even if it isn’t quite as essential as their albums from this period.

Read my album reviews for 1999.

2000: Lift Yr. Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven! (10/10)

This is GY!BE at their most ambitious, more epic and most inaccessible and, despite that (or, perhaps, because of it), it is their greatest achievement. This is the record everyone thinks of when they think of GY!BE or, really, any ‘chamber’ post-rock. Really, it’s the definitive ‘chamber’ post rock record; it’s the record that put the band on the map but also this style within the genre. It has no equal within their catalogue or this subgenre. It is an immense, complex rewarding work that could easily be the work of some “Modern Creative” composer, instead of something dreamed up by rock musicians.

It’s probably my favourite post rock album of all time, and it’s among the very best. It’s really the definitive post rock album of its era.

Okay, I’ll stop.

2021 update: I think I’ve overrated the skill with which the band incorporates (or fails to incorporate) the field recordings with the disparate pieces of music.

But this record still changed my life, so it’s staying up at the top of my list of the best albums of 2000.

2002: Yanqui U.X.O. (10/10)

Perhaps this is indeed a step towards more “accessible” music, though I don’t know that it is. It’s certainly less obviously avant garde, but this is still just about as dense and as uncompromising as “chamber” Post Rock gets.

Having heard all (most?) of these tracks live now I can say that the visceral experience of this music is not really present to the same extent on record – unless you’re, um, under the influence of something – but it’s still powerful stuff. That our ears can confuse it for “modern creative” is a testimony to the results. This is music that is pretty but grandiose; it can be melodic but it can also be terrifying.

Though this record is not my absolute favourite of theirs – that would be the even more uncompromising Lift Yr. Skinny Fists – this is still one of the great “chamber” post rock albums ever made and it’s essential listening.

Read all my 2002 album reviews.

2012: ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (9/10)

I love this, and so I have a dilemma.

On the one hand, much of this music (all of it?) is not exactly new. I don’t know how much as I’ve only seen them live once [when I wrote this] and so I can’t say for a fact that everything here is old. Moreover, with the exception of their willingness to play shorter compositions, this isn’t exactly earth-shatteringly different from what they made a decade ago. GY!BE still sounds exactly like GY!BE.

On the other hand, the music that is old was not available on CD before. But more importantly, I think the particular sub-genre of post-rock that GY!BE inhabit – one that they perhaps invented – is one that lends itself to, let us say, greater musical statements than some of the other post-rock styles. I am tempted to say that this particular style of post-rock is not necessarily all that distinct from the equally horribly named catch-all “modern creative” that denotes music made by composers – and improvisers, sometimes – who are working within and without the traditions of western “classical”, jazz and rock. In fact, aside from the fact that I know these guys are untrained and have been labelled post-rock from their beginnings is the only reason why I wouldn’t otherwise label this music ‘modern creative’. The music they produce stands within this post-modern world where all musical traditions blend together – for good or ill. And it stands as some of the most significant; I’d say GY!BE are the most important Canadian band of the 21st century, personally.

And so even though I’ve heard some of this before and maybe some of you have heard all of this before, I still think there is great value in what they have done and continue to do. And I think that even though this release doesn’t exactly force us to rethink GY!BE, it did surprise us – kudos to them – and it does still manage to stand as some of the greatest music I have heard all year. Even if it is very much just more of the same GY!BE.

Read my reviews of other albums released in 2012.

2015: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ (8/10)

To my ears, this is a more aggressively difficult record than the last one. It’s less obviously melodic and there is lots of time for noise. And though I welcome the change in some ways, I find it kind of less appealing than the stuff from their prime.

But the sound is absolutely massive – as it should be for a larger version of the band – and though the music is less immediate, it’s still compelling. It’s hard for me to fault them for being slightly less accessible given that they don’t do accessible anyway.

But still, I’d say this is a fans-only album. Not going to convert anyone who isn’t already on the bus.

Just a note: apparently these four tracks are actually a slight change to a big piece called “Behemoth,” that they have been playing for years. I have only seen GY!BE twice, and they only played this on their most recent tour, so I am not sure how true that is.

Read my reviews of other music released in 2015.

2017: “Luciferian Towers” (9/10)

I think it’s easy to listen to GY!BE and think that all their albums sound (somewhat) the same. I get that at some level. (I think it’s wrong, but I get it.) Rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall. The pattern of their compositions is certainly familiar even if the music within them is less repetitive that it might seem.

But that’s not what I hear on this record…at all. Rather, I hear GY!BE embracing sounds that they didn’t fully embrace on record (though they were definitely live). For example, on the title track they out-and-out embrace free jazz (not the actual genre, but sounds from it), something they’ve never done before, either with their own instruments or through samples.

I also hear the minimalism influence gaining more prominence, on “Bosses Hang” for example, and, again, I see that as a sign of growth, not stagnation.

And the lulls that are so important to their work are handled better here, more concisely, than they have been in some time, or perhaps better than ever before. This version of the band appears far more concerned with brevity (relatively speaking) than the version that produced those double albums and felt the need to include long samples of speeches and what have you. I think this is a good thing.

I haven’t listened to any of their records all the way through in some time – outside of the debut – just because I’ve been busy with other music but I am tempted to say this is their best record in a very long time. (That may require down-grading ratings of their more recent work if I’m serious about this, though…)

Honestly, GY!BE remains the best at what they do in the world and continue to pride new spins on that signature sound – this being perhaps the best example of that in 15 years.

Read other album reviews from 2017.

2021: G_d’s Pee at STATE’s END! (7/10)

From the first moments of Lift Your Skinny Fists, I was in love. I was at the height of my prog rock phase and I had no idea post rock existed. I had no idea Canadians were making ambitious music vaguely in the prog rock tradition at the very time that I was alive and discovering new music. And though my tastes have changed over the last 20 years, I have not stopped loving this band. I find it hard to be critical of them despite the flaws in their music I know exist and I kind of lost my mind over Luciferian Towers despite basically nobody else liking it as much as the rest of their oeuvre.

But though this record was an absolute, very pleasant surprise to me, I find myself for the first time wondering how excited I can actually get. Make no mistake, I really like the music on this album. The two big tracks are, in some ways, as effective as anything they’ve done, from a dynamics standpoint. But I find myself hearing things in the music now that I didn’t hear before, things that suggest that they are tired or maybe I am (very slowly) getting tired of them.

For one thing, this is the first time I can remember actually hearing echoes of ’70s prog rock in their music. Sure, prog rock influenced this subgenre of post rock, how could it not? (As a side note, I read someone describe this subgenre as “crescendo core,” which is a hilarious but very apt name for the genre.) But there are moments here where I think I can hear traces of straight-up similarity. Maybe that’s been here all a long and I was never able to hear it before.

The other thing is that, more than on any other record of theirs to this point, I hear the slightest of shoegaze influences. Again, maybe this has been here the whole time, but I’ve never noticed it before. And I find it odd that I’m hearing it now, this far removed from shoegaze and this far into their career.

What this amounts to for me is that the bloom is off the rose, at least intellectually. I still find the music really viscerally enjoyable but I now find myself wondering if I am no longer content with getting ridiculously excited about a new GY!BE record that sounds like every other GY!BE record. Maybe that part of my life is now over.

Read my very few album reviews from 2021.