Godspeed You! Black Emporer’s new album ‘among the best of the year’
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 22:10
Leave it to a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor to outdo Radiohead at its own game. In 2011, Radiohead’s “King of Limbs” made a big stir as a guerilla release, being announced only a week ahead of time. For the year 2012, Godspeed’s latest album, “’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” made a similar impact when the band legends simply showed up a concert with a fresh batch of new CDs. This release being Godspeed’s first studio album in ten years only added to the sense of general mystique.
From just looking at the track listing, it was already clear that the band’s latest album is the spiritual successor to their 2000 release, “Lift Yer Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.” “’Allelujah” is dominated by two monolithic, twenty-minute tracks, “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” which are both stylistically and structurally similar to the four pieces on “Antennas to Heaven.” The main structural difference is that “’Allelujah” opts for two shorter, interlude-style pieces, as opposed to two additional epics. However, it does retain a similar overall accessibility in the same sense as “Antennas to Heaven.”
Both “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire” capture a combination of their apocalyptic tones. The grandiose lock-ins of “Antennas to Heaven,” and even some dark, metallic energy reminiscent of “Soundtracks for the Blind”-era Swans appear on the album. The music may be instrumental, but the strength of the composition and performance still captures a politically and emotionally charged sound.
Although Godspeed was one of the bands that made third wave post-rock possible with “Antennas to Heaven,” it has always been the defining act of the second wave and has always remained loyal to its roots. The band continuously pays intimate attention to tension atmosphere, rather than soundscaping it as the third wave does, although aesthetically pleasing, it can come off as superficial and lacks the same fire. Godspeed is a band that still knows how to make the crescendo more than simply a post-rock trope. Such is the case with “’Allelujah,” which serves to be a very refreshing release within the somewhat stagnant third wave scene.
Since both “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire” were both tracks that Godspeed has performed live for many years prior to the release of this album, one may get the impression that the other two tracks are just filler in order to provide a buffer between the album’s epics. In the case of “Their Helicopters’ Sing,” I would argue that it is a legitimately well-done ambient/drone track that fits the album nicely, and is in good line with the general flavor of the band. For the closer, “Strung Like Lights at 3 Printemps Erable,” my opinions aren’t quite as kind. Although I still enjoyed the track and I think it works well as a discrete piece, I would have liked a stronger close to the album. Godspeed’s definitely a band more interested in the fade than the bang, but I feel they could have left the listener a better gift at the end.
“’Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” is a strong release from a legend on the scene, which should be a surprise to no one. It’s surely among the best of the year.