Review Summary: As other post-rock bands continue their race for writing the greatest hymn to life and the wonders of earth, GY!BE return to once again unmask the hidden face of the genre in all its beauty.Godspeed You! Black Emperor
first arose to fame and demi-gods status (not to mention every critic's and their sisters'
darling) with the release of F sharp A sharp Infinity
, a concept album of the humblest idea that is The End of the World.. The band was as dead-serious about this herculean accomplishment as every reviewer has been ever since, likely looking their friends dead in the eye as they said without a drop of irony that their new sonic landscapes were the architecture of the end of the mostly forward existence we the life on this planet have endured in our brief time, along with the infinite other subtleties such a concept implies. This, of course, meant that the album was either going to be the most disappointing event--thousands surely experienced this when 21/12/2012 recently came and went with deafening nothingness; could there ever something more nostalgic, and perhaps heartbreaking
, than an End of the World that never arrives?--or a landmark achievement in the history of manmade simulations.
We all know the rest of the story; history was made--or better yet, legend was made--and GY!BE has since sat comfortably on what is best described as the other spectrum of the post-rock conundrum, providing the antithesis for bands such as Sigur Rós
or Explosions in the Sky
and their fierce battle for making the greatest (straightforward) hymn of sweet love for planet Earth.
'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
comes after a fitting disappearance of almost ten years no doubt mentioned with seconds of exactitude on every other review and article for the effects of impact and/or appearing well-researched. In the meantime, post-rock infamously became a clichéd way of making music rather than the liberation from rock conventions to offer endless possibilities it once was ("ambience, drums, climax, repeat"), and only a few works in the second half of the past decade, such as the feral Hymn to the Immortal Wind, have saved grace of the decadent genre in the ears of us people who actually want to listen to something other than Pelican at parties. Teenagers have grown and begun to hate their first real job; little brothers have also grown and begun discovering the foreboding huge libraries of their siblings' music. USA has changed their government party and has decided to remain with the change
, even if it isn't the one they dreamed of. Put simply, the world is subtly, violently far from the one it was when these geniuses last played, let alone released their take on the end of it. The burden of a dying but lovable genre is just one of the rocks resting on the shoulders of this release. Still, looking back on it, I have my doubts that the people behind it ever cared about any of it, which may have much to do with how this work turned out; yet in the blaze of the moment a man with sharp ears and brain could have easily heard the extreme anxiety underneath the fingers of most humans as they hit play and hoped the "Allelujah!" was as true as every other grandeur metaphor the band had used before had been.
And one minute later, all anxiety had subsided.
To be clear, it wasn't exactly that any doubts were actually proven wrong in that time. Nothing actually
happens during that first minute, apart from the perfect sound of rising static/a single low bowed note. What does happen during that minute, however, is this: the listener understands he was mistaken, all along. He was mistaken because during those seconds, the listener takes in all the silence, and he tastes it, and he's reminded of the silence at the beginning of The Dead Flag Blues
, or maybe Storm
, or maybe Moya
, because silence seems sometimes the center of the music he's about to listen, because it isn't ever silence, because humans can't know silence in truth since there is always background noise and if there weren't the human body would just hear itself in a long melody about madness; because silence is the sound of peace; because the listener's about to listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor
in the future, now called the present, and the song starts with the same silence which alluringly sings about how it doesn't care whether you listen or not, because it's not here to entertain you: it's here to be, and to be beautiful, like all the most perfect things in life are, especially when no one's around to tell them that they are. Then, 50 minutes later, you realize all realizations of that grand first minute were even more spot-on than you could have ever guessed, and that that first summary could be all the summary 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
could ever need.
is GY!BE's non-answer to the bastardization of the post-rock form. In a genre where more and more the crescendo has been the excuse for starting a nice riff and making it 10 minutes of grown men orgasming over their guitars, GY! turn around and dive into the other (those who know them well know that perhaps there is no better for summarizing their essence than other
, in the highest sense) post-rock trait that has anyway since the beginning set them most above their peers: texture
, and space
This, of course, is not meant to be understood as saying that there are no walls of sound to be found in this record: there are. However, the band kills or at least keeps anticipation to the minimum, which grants the loud (but never too loud, and never "climatic": this is crucial) displays of emotion the magic of not coming off as the conclusion to the quiet before (or after), but instead the natural evolution of them, an evolution which, much like the one of species--nay, the one of the world--isn't actually heading towards a real conclusion. It's merely transformation.
The one thing that will forever distinguish Godspeed compositions is their sense of flow, or maybe lack of there-of. Nowadays there is a lot of talk about letting the passages breathe: GY! let them be, allowing each passage and sound to exist as a climax in and on itself (which is also, incidentally, why they can arrange the movements of their songs as they wish creating new experiences live instead of just following the maps of their studio counterparts). And this fact, of course, is the reason why they were the "fated" band, the only one to be able to map out the End: because it is human nature to confer meaning to life, despite the fact that, as Nietzsche and others tell us, meaning is not inherent to things, which merely have properties. Humans need conclusions, because that is their power: to hallucinate lines between the flux of the universe. The end of the world means the end of human understanding, of human meaning. The end of endings, one might say. To be sure, Yanqui U.X.O.
aside, 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
might be GY!'s most vulnerable record: at many points, the music flirts with emotion with an actual face, coming as close as the band has come to reveal through the music itself that there truly are human faces attached to the fingers playing the notes (7 minutes into We Drift Like Worried Fire
might be my favorite example of it), but it is only for brief moments before the movements toss us again deep into the almost inhuman melancholy we've come to love from them. They don't even need the haunting sound of a random person's interview obviously repeating itself eternally after no man still lives to hear it this time around.
There seems to be this running joke here on Sputnikmusic about how post-rock forces reviewers to become would-be poets of nature. I agree, for the most part, but here I would like to point out that that there is always in there this profoundly personal edge to it: besides the beauty of natural phenomena there is always the underlying love for being a human experiencing the wonders of this life (the Earth is not a cold dead place, right?)... yet Godspeed You! Black Emperor
will forever be a singularity in their music for their ability to paint an ethereal opposite of this. Like the end of the world, or perhaps like a dream in which the dreamer is oddly absent, GY! evoke one of the highest human feelings... perhaps our last possible comfort, our ultimate hope: the beauty of the world in our absence.