Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada (Kranky, 1999)
[originally posted 24Jan2002]
Godspeed You Black Emperor! have been around for a few years now, turning out classical-pop crossover material in relative obscurity and building themselves a small but rabid fan base. The band’s aversion to publicity of any sort (motivated not by affectation so much as a deeply left-wing anarchic bent in the Montreal collective that spawned this nine-piece, who go so far as to not even reveal their last names in most cases) has kept them from the audience they fully deserve for their style of music, especially in these days when Cecilia Bartoli is a superstar even in America and Sarah Brightman and Michael Ball are cutting platinum records left and right. There is a great untapped market for pop-informed classical music, and that is exactly what GSYBE! And their legion of spinoffs do. And they haven’t done it anywhere any better to date than on the EP Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada.
As with most GSYBE! releases, the number of tracks on the disc is small (two, in this case); unlike most GSYBE! releases, the tracks aren’t divided up into smaller pieces. “Moya” and “BBF3” are single, fully-realized long works. This has the effect of giving the EP a greater feeling of unity then other GSYBE! discs; you know you’re still listening to the same song at the end of the track that you were at the beginning.
What makes the music stand out from the crowd, aside from the obvious conceit that very few pop bands use the violin and cello as front-row instruments, is the band’s incredible sense of dynamic. As with some of the best classical music, often the same phrase crops up again and again in a piece, with only a change in dynamic to keep things fresh. And it never fails here. Everyone was hitting on all cylinders, and the result is two glorious, majestic classical pieces of with more pop sensibility than can be found in any ten boy band producers put together.
(Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not talking “Boston Pops” pop here, not by a longshot. I’m talking sexy, aggressive, channeling-the-spirit-of-Robert-Johnson drum- and-bass manipulated-tape-loop Madonna-dreams-of-being-this-good pop.) **** ½