the skyline was beautiful on fire

This is commonly used title for the first proper album by Godspeed you Black Emperor!, although the side of the CD has '!xxxf#a#∞xxx, whilst the inside sleeve has an odd diagram indicating that 'Regret' (f#) and 'Desire' (a#) are linked. Apparently it is reference to the predominant musical key of each side of the album, and that the album should be played forever.

The album is hard to describe; lazy journalists would call it post-rock (Godspeed are from Canada, and the album includes the sound of bagpipes, a sure-fire indicator of post-rock intentions). Like all of GYBE's output, it could be like the soundtrack to an imaginary David Lynch film, or a documentary about the decline of the American mid-west, or unedited recordings of Johnny Cash jamming with an early incarnation of Tangerine Dream. It combines narration, steel guitars, urban field recordings, violins and the aforementioned bagpipes to form an audio road movie; a technologically-aware existential blues. As is the group's wont, the music builds from strummed notes and sound snippets into thundering orchestral crescendos, as if grunge had grown up.

Needless to say, no singles were taken from the album and it will never, ever, form the basis of a television comedy series starring Geena Davis. It did however soundtrack large parts of the 2002 Brit horror movie 28 Days Later..., much as Mike Oldfield's similarly eerie Tubular Bells had scored The Exorcist almost thirty years before. Although Godspeed are hardly jpop, they lightened up slightly for subsequent albums, some of which - 'Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven', for example - used major chords in places.

The packaging is interesting. It contains shots of a train wreck, the aforementioned strange diagram, a set of Soviet electricity pylons, and an extract from a set of divorce papers made distressing by the terse statement that 'There is no possibility of reconciliation - no efforts to reconcile have been made'; an entire relationship, two lives summed up and dismissed in seven words.

The mood of the music is generally down-beat; apocalyptic, even. Towards the beginning there is poetry, from a voice which sounds like Lee Marvin but is not. "We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death." In the aftermath of September 11th I found myself listening to it a lot; as, by coincidence, did some of my friends. It is a soundtrack for the end of the world.

Track listing:

  1. 'the dead flag blues'
  2. 'east hastings'
  3. 'providence'

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