Posts Tagged ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’

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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Constellation Records – 21st February 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The moon has possessed a mystical power as long as it has a physical one, the pull of the tides and the regularity of the lunar months forces mankind has never and will never assert control over. The waxing moon, when the moon is growing larger in the sky, is considered by some to be a phase of new beginnings. But new beginnings are equally the reverse aspect of endings: if the moon shows us anything, it’s that everything is cyclical. Time is not linear, and linearity is but a construct that facilitates an accessible narrative.

Rebecca Foon’s Waxing Moon is an album that shimmers and glows an ethereal hue: enigmatic, mysterious, and conjuring a sense of otherness, it’s possessed of a magic that’s difficult to pinpoint.

Rebecca Foon is the composer and musician behind Saltland and Esmerine, as well as having enjoyed a lengthy spell with Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. She’s best known for her cello work, but it’s her skills as a pianist and singer that are placed to the fore on Waxing Moon. For Waxing Moon, she’s joined by an impressive array of contributors, including Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and Mishka Stein (Patrick Watson) on acoustic and electric basses, Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You Black Emperor) on violin, Jace Lasek (The Besnard Lakes) on electric guitar, and Patrick Watson as co-vocalist on ‘Vessels’.

But understatement is the key here, and the composition very much favour the sparse, low-key and minimal, demonstrating with aplomb the truth of the adage ‘less is more’. Instead of pushing the sound outward, she focuses in and goes deep into the heart of the feelings of each song.

The instrumental ‘New World’ get the album off to an affecting start, and sometimes in a world full of ceaseless noise and endless words babbled without thought, it’s easy to forget just how strongly simple notes played softly can be so richly imbued with emotion that they cam be more moving than any lyrical articulations.

When Foon sings, it’s in breathy, low tones, a sultry croon, as on ‘Pour’, which, with its brooding piano, subtly layered harmonies and haunting guitar, or the ominous, string-led ‘Another Realm’, it calls to mind some of Jarboe’s most evocative work. There’s something vaguely Leonard Cohen that goes beyond vague evocations of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ in the deep melancholy splendour of ‘Ocean Song’, while there’s something of a folksy feel to ‘Dreams to be Born.’ It’s semi-sad, entirely captivating.

The instrumentation and mood are focused on low-key, low tempo, for the most part exploring subtle shifts and microcosmic variations, although landing around the middle of the album, ‘Wide Open Eyes’ steps up both tempo and key to venture into folk-infused indie territory driven by an insistent rhythm and repetitive motif to hypnotic effect.

Waxing Moon is subtle, and has a slow pull that’s almost subliminal. It’s this soft-focus partial abstraction that renders the album so powerful: it’s by no means direct, but nevertheless conveys a deep underlying strength.

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cover Rebecca Foon - Waxing Moon

10th May 2019 – Constellation

Christopher Nosnibor

SING SINCK, SING was always going to be a bit of a trip, being the fruits of a collaboration between Efrim Manuel Menuck – founding member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion – and Kevin Doria from Growing and Total Life.

‘Do the Police Embrace?’ sets the tone: an immense, repetitive, oscillating drone where melody melts into vaporous abstraction and the vocals, not atonal, but keyless and quavering. There’s a heavily sedated, psychedelic feel which is all-pervasive: the album’s five tracks are sprawling patchouli-scented sonic meditations.

‘A Humming Void an Emptied Place’ is the sound of multitonal dronal collapse, and stands comparisons to some of the extended drone-centric workouts that feature on Swans’ Soundracks for the Blind and the releases from their last iteration, only without the build, the crescendo, dare I say the pay-off? The objective is clearly very different: this is an album designed for hypnotic immersion rather than catharsis.

In music criticism, ‘woozy’ is one of those descriptors that has mixed connotations, perhaps more often than not hinting at a vague mixed pleasure a certain level of dizziness can give rise to, the light flip of the stomach after a rollercoaster or a touch of alcohol-induced giddiness. But are SING SINCK, SING (is that an album title or a band name, or both?) feels more like the woozy of carsickness after a long journey on winding, bumpy roads on a hot day. It’s the awkward, slurring slapback reverb on the vocals on ‘We Will’; it’s the droning organ tones that criss-cross in slightly out-of-time waves; it’s the formless expanses which undulate, heave, and sigh.

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Efrim Manuel Menuck (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion) and Kevin Doria (Growing, Total Life) have joined forces on the new LP are SING SINCK, SING, out via Constellation on 10th May. As a first offering, the duo have shared the track ‘We Will’, which layers oscillating waves of melancholy drone with plaintive, reverb-cloaked vocals, before eventually coalescing into a determined and hopeful refrain. You can hear it here:

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As the title suggests, this is also an interstitial album of sorts, an identity-bridge that leads away from Menuck as ‘solo’ artist and towards SING, SINCK SING which will be the new band name for future work by the duo.

Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria Live Dates:
09 May – Montréal, QC @ Ritz PDB
10 May – Toronto, ON @ The Burdock
11 May – Hamilton, ON @ Christ Church Cathedral
16 May – Brooklyn, NY @ Murmrr
25 May – Biarritz, FR @ Festival Usopop
27 May – Limoges, FR @ Le Phare
31 May – Zottegem, BE @ Dunk Festival
01 June – Amsterdam, NL @ Best Kept Secret Festival
02 June – Barcelona, ES @ Primavera Festival
03 June – Poznan, PL @ LAS
04 June – Berlin, DE @ Arkaoda
06 June – Brussels, BE @ Botanique Rotonde
07 June – Diksmuiden, BE @ 4AD
09 June – Paris, FR @ Villette Sonique

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The seventh record by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Luciferian Towers, will be released 22nd September 2017 on Constellation. As a taster, they’ve unveiled the album’s opening track, ‘Undoing a Luciferian Towers’, on line.

We’ll spare any extensive preamble or detail about the album here, and shall instead get to the important business: listen to ‘Undoing a Luciferian Towers’ here:

Godspeed