February 21, 2002

Ed's Underground

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Never has a band had more side projects than the Canadian collective Godspeed You Black Emperor! — which makes sense when you consider that GYBE! has had as many as 30 members. Molasses, featuring Godspeed-ers Thierry, Sophie, and Moya, is primarily the brainchild of fellow Ontario native Scott Chernoff.

“Silver Cryst” starts with a field recording of birds before adding some delicate acoustic guitar. As Chernoff reaches the climax by enigmatically repeating, “you are so silver,” the band climaxes in sync, with rolling waves of guitar distortion, screeching violin, and a beautiful piano part.

Much of the song’s effectiveness is dependent on the raw, almost elemental way in which these different ingredients are mixed into the whole. A casual listen may reveal a collection of barebones folk songs, but the album’s real strength is in its raw bursts of rage, as if a response to the resigned lyrics.

This is especially true on the centerpiece, “500 Miles From Baltimore,” a tale about a financially (and physically) collapsing hotel in a downtrodden town. Chernoff delivers his most beautifully melancholy lyrics, “the children play cops/ and robbers and kill our cats/ by the grace of our lord/ this place is forlorn/ forsaken by trains/ disappearing in the razor grass.” The band responds with humming organ, clanging percussion, and a scorching front-porch harmonica solo.

The closer, “Sleeping Pill Blues,” is a minimal song that layers Chernoff’s creaky voice over a bed of twangy feedback, violin scrapes, and rumbling cymbals. Sudden, periodic outbursts of country-flavored noise propel Chernoff to a near-scream at points, turning this into a truly harrowing conclusion.

Both ugly and beautiful at once, this is an album of genuine anguish, where every stray noise practically bleeds from your speakers.

Archived article by Ed Howard