Review Summary: As the world seems evermore grim, Godspeed You! Black Emperor are looking on the bright side of life (well, sort of…)
It feels trite to say that the last year has felt as if much of the world has been living inside a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. Anyone familiar with the Montreal collective’s proclivity for anarchism-inspired transmissions of doom can draw parallels between the group’s prophecies of a society wrecked by neoliberal capitalism and the chaos that fills our Twitter timelines, governments and streets on a daily basis. After a year of lockdowns, civil rights protests and attempted coups, few people need Godspeed to tell us that the future is uncertain.
It’s a relief then that Godspeed themselves recognise this too, and on their seventh record, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, they offer us not a glib suite of we-told-you-sos, but rather an accompaniment to our current death spiral and perhaps, some inspiration of how to get out of it.
Split into four tracks – two twenty-minute passages of dense instrumentation with equally dense titles (the record opens with ‘A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)’), and two shorter cuts – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is ironically the group’s least dystopian record to date. Church bells chime under layers of driving guitars and militaristic drums, and amongst the AM radio static that fills the background, there’s birdsong and, whisper it, a sense of hope. As the album’s opening track comes to an end, it’s punctuated by distant explosions; they could be gunshots, but also, they could be fireworks.
It’s not so much that Canada’s greatest post-rock outfit have turned heel and made a Sigur Ros record, far from it. The album’s second track, 'Fire at Static Valley', opens with ambulance sirens and builds layer after layer of sombre guitar and mournful strings, transforming into a funeral march. Similarly, the opening passage of “Government Came…” is unmistakably sorrowful, all wailing violins and slow, heavy drums. But then the guitars come in, and things start to get a bit brighter. The strings sound merely melancholic now, and there’s some more shimmer on the reverb. Within a few minutes, the band approaches the soaring, uplifting heights of what’s still arguably their opus, 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists…
It’s a feeling born out by the album’s closing statement, ‘OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN’. The track serves as a kind of epilogue to the intensity of the album’s preceding forty-five minutes, starting fuzzy but soon peeling back to nothing but strings. It’s sombre, yes, but it’s also calm and reflective – a moment to pause and consider where those of us opposed to the systems that have created our current crises go from here.