ALBUM REVIEW: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d's Pee At STATE'S END!
Post-rock, unlike any other instrumental genre, is one that needs context in order to fully understand intent and to enjoy a record to its fullest extent. IDM? That’s intelligent dance music, it makes you dance and think. Ambient? It creates ambience in order to put the listener into a specific state of mind or to reflect upon the themes of the album. The sound of post-rock music is rock beyond melodies and choruses. The guitars, drums and bass that make up a rock song are all incorporated but alongside strings, ambient soundscapes, organs, etc. like an orchestra, and the song structures are typically anti-punk, i.e. the tracks are 10+ minutes long and the music is contemplative.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, along with bands like Slint and Tortoise who dropped legendary albums Spiderland and Millions Now Living Will Never Die, respectively, cultivated this genre organizing their songs into the structures that I laid out in the paragraph above. Never before in “rock” music had we seen crescendos and movements, the ‘80s and ‘90s bred a whole new monster upon the music world. Godspeed has always been my personal favorite in the genre, I love the way in which they market themselves as a group of red string lunatics connecting personal journals to government, religion and culture at large. On the gatefold of their classic 2000 record Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, the band sketches the rising and falling of their tracks to demonstrate to the listener exactly how the music should be listened to.
Context, context and more context. We love to provide it and so does Godspeed. Their new album, oddly titled G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, is post-apocalyptic in its sound, and given the current state of affairs the theme is kind of obvious, but the group’s Bandcamp page gets into the nitty gritty. The record is political in nature, the second wave of coronavirus proved to everyone that our government is not equipped to handle shit, to keep it frank. The widespread rash of police killing unarmed black people over the summer only further proved this point, and the subsequent gassing and blinding of the civilian population as a result EVEN FURTHER sent society as we know it down the tubes. This is not “post-rock”, this is post-America. Our capitalist machine in free democracy’s clothing is broken for good, and the band demands that the prisons be emptied and the police all be fired.
The falling and breakage of our nation is there in the despondent nature of this record, the intro of ""GOVERNMENT CAME" (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz)" reflects this. The band experimented with ham radios and other wavelengths on this album, and what results on this track is a mix of sad old men talking about how they “were a good boy” and the scary sounds of religious zealots shouting “Hallelujah!”. The group said in their experience, these zealots have stopped talking about how the end is near and started screaming about the end being here. A track like "where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)" also conveys the band’s message well, the sound of distant gun blasts overshadow the harmonious chirping of birds and the wind in the natural trees. Everything lovely about our world has been turned to ash, the unnatural evil of human nature has seeped into every pore of our blue planet.
Is the music good? Yes, it’s actually very good. I would say their old stuff is unbeatable, the 16-minute monster tracks like “Static” or “Sleep” were just so revolutionary for their time. If the band continued to make the same music over and over, however, they’d run into a creative wall. They choose instead to break the songs up into smaller parts that flow into each other just as well as their old music. It’s an artistic choice that doesn’t completely change the sound of the music but certainly makes it more digestible for a modern audience. Tracks 1-3 are essentially one long track, moving from slow moving, sludgy guitars and violins on "A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) [4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz]" to marching and intensified guitar and drum passages on “Job’s Lament” to more melodic and soloing instruments on “First of the Last Glaciers” which crescendo nicely by the end of it. Again, it’s not as triumphant and “satisfying” as their old work, but what does a band who’s been broken up and reformed living in a burned out country have to be cheery and celebrate about anyway? Prayers go unanswered and build ups lead to dead ends, but they do sound good while they’re going.
To be honest, “Fire At Static Valley” is a disappointment for me. It slowly creeps and builds, and has the harrowing strings of Colin Stetson's Hereditary OST, but then just falls. Again, this could be linked to the themes of being burnt out and post-apocalyptic nullification, but I think it is too typical and too directionless for Godspeed. Now, the rest of this record is truly where the band turns up the ambition and veers completely and firmly into “essential” territory. The aforementioned “”GOVERNMENT CAME”” sees the band really giving a track some breathing room, allowing it to grow from dusty winds to crashing hi-hats and fiery, soloing guitars by the end. It feels like being inside a mushroom cloud, we get to see the exact particles that are destroying everything around it. The long, droning guitars and steady pummeling of the drums sound so menacing over the doomy strings. Like a great Swans song, the track builds its repetition steadily to a loud and emotional closure, it’s the second best song on the record.
"Cliffs Gaze / cliffs' gaze at empty waters' rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE" is the best, by far. They do what they used to do in 16 minutes in just 8. Times are more urgent, the end is HERE not NEAR, so it has to be done. We get three distinct movements. “Cliffs Gaze” starts it off unassumingly with a steady, tremolo drone and violins. Part 2 begins the buzz of the guitar feedback and the hits of glockenspiel with which the guitars play in lockstep with, and then BOOM! It’s like the glockenspiel was the training wheels and they fly right off and the guitars run free! The drums get more intense right along with it, until the song just sounds like a really sunny rock song sans vocals. Part 3 is a cooldown from the action. I love this song and how it gives the listener a driving and exciting series of movements with patient waiting, that’s exactly what a post-rock song ought to do. The final track is a nice ambient and orchestral piece that speaks to our sad state of affairs, it’s like the world burned down on that previous track and this is the ashes. Stellar album from the band, a little short and basic at points but I appreciate the creative streamlining they took here. Godspeed still got it, goddamn. Hallelujah! Praise nothing!