Godspeed You! Black Emperor, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ – Album Review
On ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ their first album in a decade, Godspeed You! Black Emperor deliver a post-rock protest record that speaks and plays at the highest of volumes — even though they never say a thing.
The reticent Canadian band doesn’t do much press, but in a rare, awesome and incendiary interview with the Guardian, Godspeed said this about their incomparable — and sometimes impenetrable — instrumental music: “Someone tells us we’re special, we say, ‘F– no, we aren’t special.’ Someone asks us what the thing we made means, we say figure it out for yourself, the clues are all there.”
So what are those clues? The band — fans of cryptic Hebrew, conceptual photography and other esoteric imagery — expresses their radical politics through surreptitious strings and firebrand guitars. Their ballsy instrumentals have set the standard for post rock, an oft-transcendent genre that has, over time, been tamed. That is not the case here. Let’s just say that Godspeed would never score a Texas football drama.
Essentially, Godspeed wants to kick your ass and please your ears — in the most sophisticated and strange of fashions. As such, the new record announces itself with quiet, creeping force. ‘Mladic’ starts off reserved, a buzz of bagpipe spackled over plucked guitars, then a pull of violins — all of which is swallowed by guitar four minutes in. Distortion lurches like a colossus, screeching into feedback, punctuated with metal drums. To reference their earlier catalog, this is what a ‘Slow Riot’ sounds like, a kind of mashed-in virtuosity. A panic of guitars parts and re-entangles, as the bassist alternates between outpacing and energizing the music. It all combines into a whole, as the guitars become hydra heads, reborn and hungry. They finally collapse into the found sounds of street percussion and horns honking. The twenty minutes are, how do you say, epic.
The second track, ‘Their Helicopters Sing,’ opens with a drone and a shrill scratched violin, joined by more strings and an aggravated bagpipe. The effect is of a psychedelic orchestra pit grasping for a tone. It unfurls into the second odyssey, ‘We Drift Like Worried Fire.’ Here, the violins are at first hopeful, playing cirrus lines over the gathering cumulus of guitar, keeping steady as toms build into a thunder. Then, the guitars make a charcoal drawing of the composition, and soon, the sound coalesces into a flat-spin cacophony, a score for a David Lynch film yet unmade. There is panic, as well as pleasure, here.
The album concludes with ‘Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable,’ the title a reference to the student protests happening in Godspeed’s native Quebec. With its rumbly buzz, the noise-drone track creates a minimalist denouement for a maximal album. What’s the message? Who knows? Whatever it is, ‘Allelujah’ is a short, strange, angry little album.