Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Review of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Yannick GrandmontUntil recently, Montréal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been inexorably associated with a very certain moment in time, specifically the end of the last century and the dawn of this one. In addition to emerging at a time when post-rock was still an amorphous musical concept which was better felt than explained and Canada was only beginning to take steps towards becoming an international presence as home to exciting new music, Godspeed’s trilogy of albums – F# A#, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, and Yanqui U.X.O. rather perfectly captured the millennial tension of the time. By turns anxious, angstful, and angry, sounding simultaneously beautiful and terrifying, their mysteriousness gave Godspeed a sense of universality that spoke to people without the use of words. So while many were disappointed when the band went on hiatus in 2003, it also felt like a logical thing to do; their moment was ending.
One couldn’t help but wonder how they would have soundtracked the 21st century, though, what with society arguably declining further in disarray and injustice on so many fronts – if they were angry about the state of the world then, surely they’d be furious now. When they unexpectedly returned to action with live performances in 2010, it was mostly with old material that gave a generation of fans who’d only grown up with the legend a taste of what the reality was like. And though unfamiliar compositions did appear in their live sets, the band’s steadfast refusal to do interviews or offer any sort of public comment gave no hint if or when they would do anything further with them. Which, of course, was precisely how they liked it – else they wouldn’t have had the satisfaction of watching a portion of the internet blow up when they announced just last week that their fourth album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, not only existed but was already available for sale at their live shows and would be out worldwide in a fortnight.
As ever, describing Godspeed remains a largely futile task. At least with the live shows, one could attempt to articulate the visceral experience of being assaulted with sound for night on three hours. Discussing the album, and what its intentions are, is much more difficult. Comprised of two 20-minute compositions and two six-minute drones – provided on vinyl via a 12″ and 7″ intended to be played in alternating sides – it’s unquestionably a Godspeed record from the first moment: a sample of what sounds to be a preacher leading into an electric guitar drone with violin lines dancing overtop, all evocative of a gathering storm.
It’s probably only really relevant to discuss Godspeed in terms relative to Godspeed. From that perspective, ‘Allelujah is surprisingly concise and impressively powerful, condensing the sprawl and swirl of Skinny Fists and eschewing the hazy ambiguity of Yanqui into two focused movements that build steadily and determinedly, but also surprisingly melodically. There’s still plenty of their signature unease, but as the main compositions build, they become more anthemic and, one might almost say, optimistic. Only almost, mind you. To Ascend may be the destination, but ‘Allelujah makes it no easy trip – the two drone pieces might seem superfluous, but really do serve a purpose – “Their Helicopters’ Sing” as base camps of a sort, to regroup and recover, and “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable” as the view from the summit. Unexpected but wholly welcome, with ‘Allelujah, Godspeed You! Black Emperor prove they not only continue to have their fingers on the pulse of our present, but actually offer some hope for the future.
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is out next Tuesday, October 16, but available to stream in its entirety right now at Exclaim. And, against all expectation, the band have given an insightful interview to The Guardian about the band, their music, their politics, and their return. The full transcript of the email exchange is damn near poetry. Even the part about being “stoked”.
The impressive demand to see The Weeknd live continues – they’ve added a fourth night at The Sound Academy for November 5, tickets $34.50. The physical release of his three mixtapes – Trilogy – is out November 12, and a new video was recently released.
Quiet for most of this year, Ohbijou will be at Lee’s Palace on December 1, tickets $15. This is a benefit show; specifics are still forthcoming. And tangentially, Ohbijou spin-off Warm Myth has released a new video.
Purity Ring have spent most of this year blowing up on the back of their debut Shrines, but really haven’t played a proper Toronto show to capitalize – their last appearances were opening for Dirty Projectors and an undersized NXNE showcase. They’re rectifying that if not soon, but on a large scale, wrapping up a North American tour at The Phoenix on February 1 of next year, tickets $15. The Creator’s Project talks to them about the lightshow that will surely accompany their performance, and they’ve also just released a collaboration of sorts with hip-hop artist Danny Brown.
The Dumbing Of America, The Grid, The Line Of Best Fit, NOW, The Globe & Mail, and Pitchfork all talk to Toronto’s METZ about their self-titled debut, which has spawned a new video and gets a hometown release show at The Horseshoe on Friday night, October 12.
Video: METZ – “Wet Blanket”
Video: Snowblink – “Goodbye Eyes”
Exclaim has details on a new compilation of rarities and being released as a soundtrack of sorts for Have Not Been The Same, the definitive tome of Can-rock in the ’90s. It’s out November 13 and features tracks from Sloan, Doughboys, Skydiggers, and other bands of that vintage, and all proceeds will go to Kids Help Phone.