Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #80 Godspeed You! Black Emperor
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#80 Godspeed You Black Emperor
Perhaps the single entry that sparked the most contention (on either list), the discussion in our office that revolved around Godspeed You! Black Emperor felt strikingly like a microcosm of the wider critical reception they've received. Should we even put them in the top 100? Do they belong in the top 20? Are they furious geniuses or longwinded pretentious fucks? Just as everyone took both sides at some point in our debate – by the end, we had no idea who exactly was pushing them up or down on our list – the only common thread that tied together most critical responses was a conspicuous lack of conclusiveness. Much ink has been spilled about Godspeed's dark, political, epic nature, but rarely are we offered any substantiated opinion on the quality of the work without a marathon of backpedaling caveats.
Likewise, I won't exactly be able to say that Godspeed is "good," because there aren't any predefined set of standards with which to defend my case.
I think it is impossible to speak about Godspeed in traditional terms. Godspeed is not something you dissect or, more intuitively, something you "get." These terms imply that there are other opinions in play, ready to color your own. But the reason Godspeed is such a bewildering collective is because listening to them is unquestionably a singular experience. I have never put on a Godspeed record in the company of other people, because hell, that would be one sad and silent road trip, right? Their long-form, post-rock / epic punk songs are constructed, one movement to the next, with the sole intent of feeding the loud and rattling mind. When I was 18, I played Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven almost every night on the dark ride home from my night-shift as a golf course groundskeeper. After 6 hours of coming into contact with absolutely no one, the record's undulations between delicate and sinister orchestrations seemed to fill the empty road. And "The Dead Flag Blues" was the soundtrack that welcomed the birth of my political consciousness, when I came to develop a tangible anger at just how gravely Bush was fucking up this country. I don't know why Godspeed affected me so fiercely, but I do know I passed their CDs rather gruffly into the hands of friends, grunting: "listen to this when you have an hour alone." Usually they would come back in a few days and say, "this is pretty damn good," and that was it. I hope – I suspect – that they had their own vivid inward reactions, that this enabled them to crawl into a space where thoughts were louder and clearer – the sort of retreat which is necessary to trigger every once in a while, if only to stay sane. This as simply as I can put it: in the rare times when it becomes necessary to court an intense and focused mindset, Godspeed is the unsurpassed conduit to sink you in and pull you back out unscathed.