Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Rate the Rebels 

Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor battle for your anarchic buck.

Sigur Rs: What Radiohead desperately wants to - sounds like.
  • Sigur Rs: What Radiohead desperately wants to sounds like.

Hit the deck, ultra-pretentious art-rock aficionados! The two biggest names in psychedelic weirdness hit town this week, guaranteeing street prices for hard drugs will skyrocket, along with clinical cases of paranoia and sightings of Jesus. But who's truly worth your money? 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:

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 homebase

GYBE: Montreal, land of wild moose, Labatt Blue, and people 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 Von in '97, distraught that the album title All Lights Fucked on the Hairy Amp Drooling was already taken.

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.


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

SR: Standard art-rock guitar effects/vintage keyboards fare augmented by frontman 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: Freaknasty 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 thing good about that flick.

Current endeavor

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

SR: Critic/pointy-head favorite ( ).

Degree of pretension

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

SR: Astronomical. No real album title, no song titles, no lyrics. A conceptual art-damaged mind fuck 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 website.

Appropriate venue for listening

GYBE: Prison.

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

Strange behavior during live performances

GYBE: Packing 10 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 onstage during shows and staying there for, oh, 20 minutes.

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 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: Go see 'em both. They're the closest thing to pure punk rock we've got left.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • Open Turntable Tuesday @ The Winchester

    • Tuesdays
  • Ryan Sickler @ Hilarities Comedy Club

    • Thu., Dec. 9
  • Sebastian Maniscalco @ Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse

    • Thu., Dec. 9

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation