There’s reason to be excited – truly ecstatic, even – for the new LP from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! doesn’t trudge over much new terrain, doesn’t turn over new tea leaves or undisturbed stones. But, as an expression of the band’s overtly signature sound and paralleled political ethos, it is, without much doubt, the best record the Montreal post-rock ensemble have put together since 2000’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. And that, my friend, is no small feat.
The album starts with something very telling about the direction that the tone of the record will take. While Ian MacKaye’s Coriky trio applied Shakespearean connotations to the US’ anonymous killing machines in the sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor simply records and replays the machine’s codex, a short-wave-captured recording of its white-noise alphabet. It’s fitting for a record that seems obsessed with the end of hierarchies and ideological structures; the ensemble have always provided long songs, opuses, often, with apocalyptic overtones – here, they’re just made very literal.
After some bass that sounds like bagpipes to open “A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind)”, we’re treated to a simple, spare, and repeating motif on electric guitar that is masterful in its Minimalist heat and expansion. While recent GY!BE records sometimes have become vehicles for bombastic crescendos and aural fireworks, the opener on STATE’S END! takes its time (and then some) to build tension and texture with graduated effects. The result is a faux-lament that takes nearly 10 minutes to unfold fully. When it does completely unfurl, the screwdrivers scraping-out notes on half-busted distorted guitars that soar, the pay-off is magnificent.
One could author chapters – perhaps a “33 1/3” installment, someday – about the beautiful compositional nature of “A Military Alphabet”, which, in true GY!BE form, is epic in both scale and structure. There’s a moment about 13 and a half minutes into the 20:22 run time where much of the soaring noise instantly falls away and the band, complete with bandleader Efrim Menuck’s guitar scales, kind of shuffles along, muted. It’s breathtaking stuff. But there’s a lot of breathtaking stuff on the LP. While the two “main” compositions – “A Military Alphabet” and the third track of four, “GOVERNMENT CAME”, which nearly breaks 20 minutes, too – are both excellent, the band shows an unusually deep attention to what, for lack of better terms, could be called its interstitials.
“Fire at Static Valley” is, at “just” 5:58, the record’s shortest offering, but Menuck’s finger-picked brand of six-string melancholy on the track is arresting. And it is beautifully accompanied by a full-band noise-drone that sounds like a million bees buzzing in your bonnet – an incredible detail.
The closer, “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (For D.H.)”, devastates while not resorting to cacophonies. The percussion-less piece, which somberly floats along with the listener’s natural ebb and flow through six minutes and change, resembles a tender requiem for a fallen friend – a comrade, if we may take the leap and call it like it is. There’s amazingly nuanced guitar work on the closing track. The band makes tides of sound, and the waves of white noise break in the closing moments to reveal the straight-faced emoting of strings sweetly singing. For a group as quick to cloud their collective identity like this one, it’s a bizarrely personal offering – naked, vulnerable, honest.
GY!BE have been here before. The collective have released brilliant, genre-defining LPs and, even in their more lackluster or formulaic moments, have risen again to its challenges. STATE’S END! is another wonderful chapter in a book we hope will continue to be writ for years. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Hotel2Tango isn’t the only mighty institution in Montreal – God bless God’s pee. We may have a Record of the Year on our hands here.