Applying description to instrumental music instantly lessens the music’s effect.
Nevertheless, Xpress recently approached several local avant-rock aficionados with that very challenge in discussing the music of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Yanqui UXO (Constellation Records), the latest release from the Canadian group/band/orchestra/collective — formerly exclaiming themselves as Godspeed You Black Emperor! — is a beautiful, deeply affecting work that directly engages the electrochemistry of the brain.
Wordless music, the record reveals, may offer the most direct conduits to our emotions.
In avoiding the abstractions of literacy and formula that normally impose themselves on a listening experience, the songs are, instead, received in some deeper part of the mind — in what anarchist writer Derrick Jensen calls “a language older than words.”
Yet even with this effect, the nine-member group’s sound is able to prompt visual images — cinematic sweeps of human activity and great, rugged landscapes — and to convey a sense of narrative so strong that Yanqui UXO becomes a soundtrack particular to each listener’s imagination.
“It has a lot of dynamics to it,” notes Dianne, a local fan. “There’s a lot of changes in tempo and changes in volume.” (GYBE’s members also remain semi-anonymous — they’re listed only by first name and decline interviews except immediately following performances.)
Rae, another devotee, compares the effect of GYBE’s music to that of surrealist children’s-book illustrator Chris Van Allsburg.
“They both provide beautiful scenery for their audiences’ minds to create timeless story lines,” she offers.
Asked to describe the GYBE sound, Elysse, a third local admirer, quickly and succinctly states: “They’re dreamy.”
Previous GYBE albums have included human speech, but Yanqui UXO is voice-free. If Yanqui could be dismantled and re-assembled like an ordinary record, then this Frankenstein monster would contain bits and pieces of Spaghetti-western composer Ennio Morricone, ’80s synthesizer artist Vangelis, experimental musician Philip Glass, surf rockers the Plugz and Thatcher-era anarcho-punks Crass (the last band not so much for its sound as for its passion for integrity, though Crass’ audio collages do bear some resemblance to the sensibility guiding GYBE’s composition style).
Though Crass sought to avoid the corrupting influence of commercial success with an abrasive, aggressively dissonant style, GYBE, instead, creates complex, lush soundscapes demanding a level of attention sure to keep them safely absent from MTV and Clear Channel radio.
The decision of anonymity seems another move to maintain a maximum of direct-listener experience — and, in the process, avoid a commercial fall from grace.
Consider how different the Beatles would sound if the experience of listening to the group was liberated from its deafening cultural baggage.