How often do you hear an artist that truly sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard?
For some people, Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor is one of those bands, and they will be making their El Paso debut at the Lowbrow Palace on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
If their complicated name sounds familiar (often shortened to GY!BE or simply, Godspeed), it may be due to the prominent use of their music in Danny Boyle’s 2002 post-apocalyptic horror film “28 Days Later.”
Boyle once said he “always try to have a soundtrack in my mind [when creating a film]. For me, the soundtrack to ‘28 Days Later’ was Godspeed. The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head.”
An appropriate choice, as Godspeed’s music is if anything, the sound of the apocalypse.
“It’s very difficult to describe,” said longtime Godspeed fan Jorge Gutierrez, who has a tattoo of their breakthrough 2000 album “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven” on his back.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You kind of have to let your body relax. It’s an enormous experience. The first time I heard Godspeed, I was in shock. I thought ‘How is this not known by more people?’ It showed me a new frame of reference for what music could be and how it could feel. It’s very biblical.”
Godspeed are titans of the genre known as post-rock, a form of experimental music characterized by emphasis on texture, ambiance and timbre over traditional rock song structures, chords or riffs.
It’s almost classical in its grandeur, but extremely maximal in its execution. Think of the sensations you feel during the last 30 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you have a good idea of how post-rock sounds. And Godspeed certainly takes those sensations to the extreme.
Respected music critic Anthony Fantano has called “Lift Your Skinny Fists” a “classic album” saying “this album, and post-rock in general, have something cinematic about them by nature… loaded with qualities I look for in music: lots of ambition, great recording and sound…experimentation and lots of variety in terms of ideas and different genres of music.”
The online publication Pitchfork awarded the album a rare 9/10 score, while Tiny Mix Tapes called it “alternately hypnotic and captivating, sleepy and startling” comparing their sounds to “a far subtler Pink Floyd.”
The album features only four songs each with a mean length of 22 minutes – on vinyl that’s a double LP with one song per side. Vinyl copies of the album even come with a map featuring a diagram on how each song progresses, movement by movement.
But unlike Yes or other progressive rock bands of the 70s, Godspeed’s music is almost entirely instrumental, with the exceptions of several samples of spoken dialogue and radio broadcasts that emphasize the apocalyptic nature of the music.
It’s all about the atmosphere.