[14 October 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The first thing that any review of the new album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor will mention is the wait. The last time these guys had an album was in the November of 2002, Yanqui U.X.O.. The second thing any review will mention is the record’s title. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! came to me in a gorgeous vinyl package, so I like to think that part of this title is an instruction to the postman.
The members of GY!BE, when not getting stopped by the police and questioned by the FBI, have spent the better part of ten years pursuing other musical interests. Guitarist Roger Tellier-Craig left to go Fly Pan Am. When the group reunited for a string of shows in 2010, guitarist Mike Moya jumped back on board while cellist Norsola Johnson said thanks but no thanks. They were careful not to toot their own horn too loudly when it came to new material, but you just can’t hold back a cult favorite. Despite it’s lack of promotional buzz, the arrival of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! has hit the post-rock community like a tidal wave. It’s at times such as this when everyone is prone to slip on their cynical glasses and say “Big Deal! Why, if it were any other band…” That’s understandable. The internet spits a lot of garbage at you. And I don’t need to tell you that the whole indie scene can sometimes appear to be too wrapped up in itself to view anything objectively. On top of that, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s generally negative attitude towards the shallow prospects of western modern life can dangerously tip the scales of how someone on the outside looking in can hear them. Separating the cream from the crap gets harder as more and more things get labeled “brilliant.” So how do we approach the latest jolt of hype courtesy of these Canadian oddballs?
I have one suggestion: loudly. But you already knew that, loyal fans. Godspeed You! Black Emperor had the noise and drone market cornered a while ago. This isn’t just repetition, it’s auditory hypnosis. Treating ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! as such brings me to my next most obvious suggestion: detachment. When a bigshot band gets a well-publicized itch to “experiment”, the results often come off so carefully measured that you could hear the producer taking a protractor to the master tapes. The music on ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! doesn’t try to be symmetrical or chaotic. If it rides on a formula, it does not advertise. They plug in, play, and the piece takes shape. A similar attitude helps for listening. Just drop the needle (if you’re lucky enough to spring for the wax edition) and don’t keep score. When you place implicit trust in the band, the music reaches full bloom.
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! gives you two lengthy noise rockouts, “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire”, and two strike drones, “Their Helicopters Sing” and “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable”. When you get the vinyl edition, the first two numbers appear on a 12-inch record while the last are on a 7-inch record. Yeah, it’s kind of a tight fit in that sleeve. And it’s all a wonderfully asymmetric journey. “Mladic” pounds around the flatted second, a perfect east-meets-west scale that’s shows who’s boss right off the bat. “Their Helicopter’s Sing” stretches its one note status as far as it can before it breaks apart. For “Strung Like Lights at Three Printemps Erable”, that one note actually does break apart. It’s a great reminder of why I listen to this kind of music in the first place; to hear things I’ve never heard before. As good as all of this is, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! can safely be regarded as a 2012 classic based on “We Drift Like Worried Fire” alone. It’s 20-minutes long, it’s a racket, and it’s also one of those gosh-ain’t-music-great jams. Part Pink Floyd, part Tortoise on Prozac, pure skydiving.
I’m not going to try to sell you on ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!. That just contributes to the internet hype/junk machine that Godspeed You! Black Emperor are oh so unfond of. ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! sells itself, and I will leave it at that.