Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Posted: 21 March 2021 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Constellation – 2nd April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor are a band I’ve long found perplexing. Not musically: that they stand as one of the definitive post-rock acts is irrefutable, and the reasons why are evident in pretty much every track they’ve released. Moreover, having started out back in 1994, releasing their debut album in ’97, they more or less invented the genre. But there is clearly a lot more to this perversely enigmatic collective, who have spent a career eschewing all industry conventions, refusing to give interviews, and identifying as anarchists, with left-wing themes and ideologies running through their work.

But perhaps one thing that is often overlooked is a certain absurdist humour that’s occasionally evident in the work of a band who have also released material as God’s Pee, and Pee’d Emp’ror. This in no way undermines the seriousness of the band, so much as it indicates they’re more multifaceted than popular perceptions indicate.

As Kitty Empire wrote in The Guardian in 2002, ‘When they made the cover of the NME in 2000, they did not actually appear. The background image was of a cloudy sky, broiling with portent. In place of the traditional sucked-in-cheek band photograph, a quote appeared, from the opening monologue on Godspeed’s debut album, the snappily-titled f#a#OO: ‘the car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows’. And yes, it sounds portentous, even vaguely pretentious even, and certainly suggests high art. But maybe it – and they – aren’t as serious as all that? Maybe there’s something parodic in their intent. Maybe they’re the KLF of post-rock?

Their latest offering, the curiously-titled G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! only furthers that notion. Not that their music sounds anything but deadly serious, and the band’s statement which accompanies the release reinforces their political position from a bleak standpoint:

this record is about all of us waiting for the end.

all current forms of governance are failed.

this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning,

and is informed by the following demands=

empty the prisons

take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.

end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.

tax the rich until they’re impoverished.

And then they sign it off as God’s Pee.

The press release interestingly points to the band’s non-conformist tendencies, citing ‘the heretical anarcho-punk spirit of the title’ and pitching an album on which ‘Godspeed harnesses some particularly raw power, spittle and grit across two riveting 20-minute side-length trajectories of noise-drenched widescreen post-rock: inexorable chug blossoms into blown-out twang, as some of the band’s most soaring, searing melodies ricochet and converge amidst violin and bassline counterpoint.’

But that’s two side-long tracks (plus a couple of interludes – because in the world if GY!BE, six minutes is an interlude, and the two shorter tracks are presented on a 10” that comes as an addition to the 12” vinyl album, which actually makes more sense than the digital version, but then, vinyl often makes more sense, especially where bonus material is concerned): you know that this isn’t some shift towards snappy protest music or anything that’s even vaguely overtly ‘punk’ – at least stylistically. Although I would argue that the most punk thing anyone can do is their own thing and refuse to be swayed by trends or peers. So perhaps G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is the pinnacle of punk in 2021. It certainly isn’t radio-friendly, pop, rap, or R’n’B orientated.

The first track – the snappily-titled twenty-minute behemoth ‘A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)’ is effectively an album condensed into one longform composition, a mess of overlayed vocal samples, ambient noise, field recordings, and heavy guitar that displays a droney / psychedelic bent. At times it’s overloading, distorting, but in contrast, certain passages bring it right down to a low throb and chiming top notes. And just shy of the eight-minute mark, the build breaks into the album’s first monumental, sustained crescendo. That crescendo hits an expansive motoric bliss-out and just keeps on going… and going. And things really step up once again around the thirteen-minute mark with some serious heavy guitars. The folksy passage that follows the comedown is both sedate and surprising, and it ends with gunshots and death. I’m speculating, but it seems fitting.

‘Fire at Static Alley’ begins as a volcanic eruption, before yielding to a steady, stately tom beat at a sedate, strolling pace and chiming guitars that are the very quintessence of post-rock. It’s haunting and atmospheric, and provides a moment of respite before crackling radio dialogue disperses among static and trilling wails of enigmatic electronica. A collage of extraneous sounds, cut and overlayed rises before a ponderous bass wanders in hesitantly to change the trajectory of ‘GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE’ – another multi-sectioned, multi-faceted beast that’s a collision of post-rock, progressive, and experimental. At its many, soaring peaks, it’s a full-tilt psychedelic rock behemoth, which soars off toward the end into altogether trippier territory.

If ‘OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)’ sounds aggressive in its capitalisation, it manifests rather more gently as an expansive ambient composition, which makes for a pleasant and majestic closer.

Matters of formatting make this a difficult release to assess as an ‘experience’, which is likely to differ depending on one’s format of choice. But to take AT STATE’S END! as its two tracks, with their cumbersome titles and multiple segments, it’s by turns intense and soothing – and without question an essential addition to the GY!BE catalogue.

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