When asked to describe what Montreal-based Godspeed You! Black Emperor sounds like, I’d bet a lot of people would have trouble finding the words. The terms “noise,” “experimental” and “ambient” might come to mind, and most boil them down to good ‘ol, all-encompassing Post-Rock.
When listening to one of their ten to twenty minute songs, one might have an epiphany – or maybe only confusion or boredom may emerge. The whole verse-chorus song format means absolutely nothing to these musicians. A song’s buildup (rather loosely using that term) is often minimal and frequently entails modifications and layering of noise and riffs, sometimes culminating to loudness, sometimes back to something more coherent or sometimes just to the end of a song. Their faster, more ‘normal’ rock moments are reminiscent of other bands of ‘their genre’, such as Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós and perhaps even Slint. But the band has a particular flavor: drones and echoey string riffs, tactical insertions of industrial noise, sequences of ambiguous lyrics and samples, or bouts of silence. Most songs lack an obvious beat or meter while sustaining a musical murmur like an off-putting yet dreamy film score.
….GY!BE often comes to mind as an example of a band you “really have to let grow on you” or listen to a thousand times to “get”….
The band has seen shifts in members since its inception in the 90s, and the inconsistency and fluidity of its makeup is perhaps appropriate for its sound. They sure are progressive, investigative, innovative and sometimes just plain weird and misunderstood (e.g. some members have been accused of being terrorists). GY!BE are known to be great performers who play LOUDLY. Smaller venues like Smartbar and the Vic may exacerbate the un-Godspeed You!-trained ear’s tendency to hear them as just unintelligible noise, but their hardcore fans (who are not few are far between, especially in Chicago, let me tell you) will melt in the great genius of their madness.