This new release from Godspeed You! Black Emperor signals a return to the ideological and politically-fueled sounds of their earlier ventures.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the seminal, politically-agitative Canadian post-rock collective, make urgent music for urgent times. Over their 25-year run, the band has repeatedly warned against encroaching doom via musical imaginings of the ramp-up to its arrival and the wreckage left in its wake, with the shape of their music locating both triumph and despair amid desolate expanses. The group’s initial arc crested with 2002’s Yanqui U.X.O. and a decade-long hiatus followed, after which GY!BE executed an improbable, gratifying comeback with 2012’s Allelujah, Don’t Bend, Ascend!, released to acclaim and eventually awarded with the Polaris Music Prize (which the group, naturally, had complicated feelings about receiving). Though GY!BE has remained active since the release of Allelujah, the albums that followed have struggled somewhat to adapt the group’s usual sense of scale to a miniaturized compositional runway, and marked the first occasion of the group’s post-apocalyptic broadcasts featuring something resembling dead air space.
The cheekily titled G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, the group’s first album since 2017’s Luciferian Towers, arrives as something of a corrective, presenting a similar organizational structure as the group’s last comeback record: two long-form, multi-part epics buttressed with two shorter, more downtempo laments. Whether by virtue of its overall architecture or the timing of its release — i.e. during a global crisis which has called the utility of the nation state into question — G_d’s Pee is among the group’s most immediately resonant works since Allelujah or the initial trilogy of albums that preceded it. After the usual preamble of warbly field recordings, opener “Military Alphabet” kicks off in earnest with a scorched riff whose naked emotionality is transposable onto a listener’s lived and imagined realities alike. The distortion resolves in a short-lived reprieve of clean guitars and accompanying strings on the subsequent “Job’s Lament,” which itself transitions into an anxious churn and culminates in a woozy, full-band waltz on “First of the Last Glaciers.” While prior GY!BE releases preserved the monolithic runtime of their arrangements in single-track form, G_d’s Pee separates its nominal opener into four distinct movements in its streaming presentation: on the one hand, this is a seeming concession to the streaming era’s new normal; on the other, it’s of a piece with the more direct approach that characterizes (and enlivens) the music and perspective of G_d’s Pee.
Aside from the depressed dirge of “Fire at Static Valley,” the album’s other cuts are similarly cathartic. The other proper epic on the record, “GOVERNMENT CAME,” matches the pyrotechnics of “Military Alphabet,” grinding and churning until erupting into an ecstatic riff that leads the rest of the band in a gallop to the finish line. And while closer “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (For D.H.)” initially strikes an elegiac mood, its string-centric hum eventually transitions into a more self-evidently reassuring melody, tying off G_d’s Pee on something resembling a hopeful note. For anyone committed to understanding GY!BE’s ideological underpinnings and the intent behind music that doesn’t immediately reveal its motives, the group has once again released a statement of purpose that doubles as a political platform, detailing a litany of demands that will prove legible to anyone who’s lived through the last year and change. Though these lofty ambitions are certainly readable onto G_d’s Pee, it bears repeating how transposable its heft and scope are onto more prosaic struggles as well. Between the more legible emotional throughline provided by moments of genuine “rocking,” and the album’s balanced ratio between musical rise and fall, GY!BE has once again made music that can bear the weight of individual and collective concerns alike.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 1.