Review Summary: No vacancies at this apocalypse
The year is 2021, democracy is crumbling, and rambling hagiofications of the career and legacy of Godspeed You! Black Emperor are as passé as anything else to do with post-rock. We know who Godspeed are; so do they. Where do you think the self-parody comes from? G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
is definitely an album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It is their seventh album.
To cut the crap and shoot the shit, this is the most direct and accessible the Montreal comrades have sounded since 1999’s Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
; it trims a certain amount of fat and takes things more obviously than ever in an ever-obvious direction. Every cliché applicable to the band’s sinewave dynamics and orchestro-punk arrangements is well-represented here, but there are a few notable streamlinings to the oft-touted Godspeed formula (no introductions!). Where their other post-hiatus work had static-ridden drone intermissions, here they have docile string interludes underpinned by drones you can pretend not to hear; where their tracks would previously have undertaken build-ups through the chief medium of reverb, the band are now all too happy to palm mute their guitars and trot out what could comfortably be construed as ‘riffs’; where once there were melodies, there are now more melodies. All these changes are superficial to the band’s core sound, but they may have an impact on their ability to appeal to those alive in the year 2021 and not already enraptured. Widescreen post-rock
indeed; rejoice etc..
For those of us [thoroughly] familiar with Godspeed’s internal conventions and the steadily diminishing returns the group has been eking out of them since their 2012 comeback 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
, it’s a shallow restaging of the same old story. Their new record with its stupid new title represents little outside of its dismantling of the band’s previously obstinate facets, standing neither as a statement piece nor as an ideal showcase of their established strengths. It’s unfair to call it a direct retread, but it still manages to confirm every reservation many have harboured all along over this band. Those eager for traditional post-rock thrills will find them readily available here; anyone else would do well to keep their expectations grounded.
More than ever before, I’m struck by how bland the whole package is. G_d’s Pee…
feels like a run-off from previous yardsticks, though not always the ones you might expect. At the time of its release, I wasn’t floored by Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress
’ opener “Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!'”, a ten-minute drone rocker built on waves of distortion, a sluggish tempo, comparatively unpronounced shifts of dynamics, and interweaving klezmer melodies. However, I’ve developed much more respect for that track given how 2017’s Luciferian Towers
watered down its dense chemistry and Phrygian contours into something aesthetically similar but far less striking. Following on from where the thunderous “Mladic” had left off, “Peasantry…” had seemed to advance a new vision of Godspeed’s sense of excess, but this has since U-turned into a series of decreasingly distinctive backsteps that confirm long-fossilised post-rock tropes rather than transcending them. For all its own own alterations, G_d’s Pee...
fits this progression snugly and is all the more underwhelming for it.
The opener “A Military Alphabet (6666.6 gigaHertz of Whatever)” falls particularly foul here, teasing a straightforward rock promise that Godspeed have rarely been inclined to deliver (“Static” and “Mladic” being the notable exceptions that they are). The track places guitars at the front and centre, no longer styled as the band’s trademark trumpetings of jagged reverberation, but now rooted in the grit and kineticism of good ol’ palm-muted chugging. Whatever potential for momentousness this may have had is lost in a series of dinky ascending scales and well-behaved resolutions, good dynamic chemistry set to dull ends. Godspeed have long had a knack for working simple motifs to a compellingly cinematic scope, but they veer into colourlessness on this track. The final section of epic #2 ““GOVERNMENT CAME” (99 Cliffaces Akin To Empty Cinema Screens (Post-Toilet Paper Anarcho-Rapture Capitol))” fares even worse, landing square in the middle of that anemic ‘uplifting’ bittersweetness associated that most vapid of staple bands Explosions In The Sky, though fortunately that track’s earlier phases fare better.
To that end, the album’s finest points are twofold. Its most memorable moment comes at around the 4:30 - 6:30 mark in “❝’「〝“GOVERNMENT CAME” 〞」’❞”, at which point the string track reaches out as though in mournful, urgent defiance of the song’s sluggish pacing, attaining a melodramatic juxtaposition far more stirring than any following episodes of unilateral maximalism. On the other hand, the most convincing showcase of Godspeed’s all-important creeping tension comes in the interlude “Fire at Static Valley”, which indicates ominously that the intrigue of a slowburning build-up with no release outweighs the weary gratification of band’s now-underwhelming climaxes at this point. This may be a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album from top to tail, but tradition dictates that neither of these should have been anywhere near the top of its cathartic takeaway pile. Someone had blundered.
Taking a broader view of the year 2021
, I don’t think it’s any surprise that Godspeed are struggling to lay down their concertedly radical vision with anything close to the same resonance as their early masterpieces F♯ A♯ ∞
and Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
. Those records’ apocalyptic overtones were backed up by stronger music, but they also benefited hugely from an eerie feeling of prescience, positing a conceivably and disturbingly morbid future rather than a reflection of clear-as-day present realities. They’ve aged well as such, but G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
’s statement is more a moot reminder of a socio-political climate that, really, requires no reminder at all outside of mainstream news coverage, least of all one this laboured. As a slew of artists across all genres have proved over recent years, it’s wearisome to cater to an end-times zeitgeist because individual listeners’ thoughts and feelings on the matter are often more profound or nuanced than anything most performers have to reiterate. No longer supported by two decades’ worth of prophetic scope or career-highlight compositions, Godspeed’s revolution feels as performative as it always has - and a good deal more hollow. CNN and the BBC have them beat at their own game by now; the state always wins.