Combat Rock

Inscrutable band name

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Randomly chosen by combining words in the Canadian Anarchist Collective Magnetic Poetry set. Put the exclamation point after Emperor! if you want.

Sigur Rós: Is that "sugar rose"? "Cy-grrr rahs"? Or "Seger rocks"?

Exotic home base

GYBE: Montreal, Canada, land of wild moose, Labatt Blue and hosers who actually care about the NHL.

SR: Iceland, land of stunning physical beauty (mountains, glacial rivers, etc.) and crazed electro-divas (Björk).

Public emergence

GYBE: In 1984, self-releasing 33 copies of a cassette titled All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling.

SR: Released Iceland-only Von in '97, distraught that the album title All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling was taken.

Brief description of sound

GYBE: Beautiful orchestral tunes with 20-minute run times and huge, monstrous climaxes designed to scare people shitless.

SR: Pink Floyd-caliber art-rock montages for grad student makeout sessions. What Radiohead desperately wants to sounds like.

Instrumentation utilized

GYBE: Three guitars, a couple basses, various drummers, violins, violas, cellos, French horns, tape loops and some dude workin' the projector.

SR: Standard art-rock guitar effects/vintage keyboards fare augmented by front man Jón Thor Birgisson's creepy, otherworldly soprano -- he sounds like a loaded karaoke bar for whales on Mariah Carey tribute night.

Cultural high-water mark

GYBE: Freak-nasty 2000 double-disc set, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!

SR: Nearly comatose single "Svefn-G-Englar" (the "it's yoooooou" song) propelled 2001's Agaetis Byrjun to hipster stardom. Its inclusion on the soundtrack to Vanilla Sky is the only good thing about that flick.

Current endeavor

GYBE: Nightmarish, warfare-themed Yanqui U.X.O.

SR: Critic/pointyhead favorite ( ).

Degree of pretension

GYBE: Jesus, dude, it's orchestral rock, not Black Flag. Ideologically, band constantly combats age-old "We are fiercely anticapitalist but must employ capitalism to sell records and thus fund our coffee-fueled anticapitalist rants" self-loathing.

SR: Astronomical. No real album title, no song titles, no lyrics. A conceptual art-damaged mindfuck on par with Kangaroo Jack.

Wacky lyrical content

GYBE: No vocals -- just occasional tape loops. Example: "The car is on fire and there is no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides…we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death…"

SR: Lyrics all sung in "Hopelandic," a made-up language consisting primarily of eeeeeeeeeeeeee's and oooooooooooo's. Most of the lyrics on ( ) sound like "you sigh," "ewes, hi" or "youse high."

Fan interaction

GYBE: Limited mainly to live show tape-trading. Hard to idolize a band when you wouldn't recognize its members if they kicked your ass on the street.

SR: The devout are encouraged to visit and supply their own lyrics to ( ), which leads to highly amusing interpretations: "Swans are cool / The fires rage / Isä ja / You will / Although things are bad / There is a hope / You say you all alone by the fire / It's on."

Somber political overtones

GYBE: Yanqui's liner notes helpfully describe the two-part 9-15-00 as "Ariel Sharon surrounded by 1,000 Israeli soldiers marching on Al-Haram Ash-Sharif and provoking another unfitted."

SR: Understated. Just a "Stop the War in Iraq!" pop-up window on the Web site.

Arty song titles

GYBE: "Motherfucker = Redeemer" (parts 1 and 2).

SR: Agaetis Byrjun includes such toe- tappers as "Flugufrelsarinn" and "Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa."

Appropriate venue for listening

GYBE: Prison.

SR: That magical Teletubbies fairy land where the sun's, like, this baby's face.

Appropriate films to screen with sound off while CD is playing

GYBE: Blue Velvet, Strange Brew.

SR: The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth.

Will stoners dig it?

GYBE: Not recommended. Freakish noise collages doth not coexist well with paranoia.

SR: Hell, yeah. ( ) should've been entitled Pink Side of the Moon.

Are they hot or not?

GYBE: Beats the hell out of us. Even their live concerts aren't well lit.

SR: In an "Emaciated Lumberjack" sort of way. Turn-ons include sleepy countenances and old-guy beards.

Wacked-out CD packaging

GYBE: Yanqui U.X.O.'s back cover features a diagram charting the major record companies' corporate ties to military weaponry.

SR: Towheaded angelic fetuses; washed-out photos of trees, grass.

Strange behavior during live performances

GYBE: Packing ten or so musicians on a tiny-looking stage, forcing concert reviewers to buy their own tickets (all proceeds benefit an adult literacy organization).

SR: Members lying down on stage during shows and staying there for, oh, 20 minutes.

Fucked-up videos

GYBE: MTV? Get the hell out of town.

SR: The video for track one on ( ) consists of cute kids putting on gas masks and dancing merrily around a postapocalyptic wasteland. Gnarly.

Propensity to talk trash

GYBE: "Radiohead is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites and liars. They are crazy enough to think that everything they say is taken seriously, despite the fact that they belong to a multinational."

SR: It's all about the love.

Adversarial relationship with media

GYBE: Rarely consents to press interviews and nearly always regrets doing so. After the Radiohead-slagging piece appeared in the Dutch rag OOR, Godspeed responded with an open letter referring to the interviewer as "a lost, weak, lonely man" and adding, "I felt a fair amount of misguided empathy towards you…I now regret feeling anything at all, and I wish you nothing but continued misery, loneliness, and despair."

SR: It's all about the rarely granted, uncomfortably conveyed love.

Verdict: A draw. They're each the closest thing to pure punk rock we've got left.

ltrapretentious art rock aficionados, take cheer! Only a couple of weeks after the Godspeed You! Black Emperor show, the other biggest name in psychedelic weirdness hits town this week. Once again, street prices for hard drugs will skyrocket, along with clinical cases of paranoia and sightings of Jesus.

But who's the king, the grand champeen? The high-concept orchestral rock of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or the bombed-out-of-your-gourd sleepwalking majesty of Sigur Rós? Perhaps an elaborate-ass Tale of the Tape is in order.

Sigur Rós appears Monday, March 31, at the Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas Avenue. The Album Leaf also appears. For more information, call 713-230-1600.

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Rob Harvilla
Contact: Rob Harvilla