Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s first studio recording in a decade, is a powerful wallop of gale force proportions. It seemed only appropriate, then, that we kept it in frequent rotation during our recent weathering of “Frankenstorm” Sandy. Doubtless, some reached for musical “comfort food” of a different sort.
A couple of the tracks on Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend! are familiar to fans as mainstays of the band’s live shows; the rest of the material is new. The old tag for the type of music that GY!BE make is “post-rock.” The old saw about the shape of pieces written in this genre: “They start out quiet and get progressively louder – one long crescendo.” While there are a number of pieces in their catalog that could be described as having rough contours that resemble this description, it was reductive a decade ago and is even more inapt today. Godspeed still prefers long form pieces, but there are plenty of details that depart from the script of “inexorability” and instead provide contrasts and detours. In short, they are as musically engaging as ever. But why are they back now?
With an affinity for leftist political positions, GY!BE seems to have returned to the field at a curious, yet opportune time. Departing in the midst of Bush the younger’s “reign” and absenting themselves during Obama’s tepid first term, one might guess that the band refrained from recording and, until 2011, touring, as a gesture akin to throwing up one’s hands at the absurdity of it all. Again, that’s a reductive oversimplification; the group’s members have been busy with various other projects and one needn’t make a one to one correlation between their music and political activism.
That said, their return this fall, at the height of election season, is a reminder that many constituencies are not being well represented, either in Godspeed’s home country Canada or in the US, by the current political parties in power. While certainly no fans of conservatism, one imagines that this time out the band might be venting their spleen at those too divided or timid to push for real change. The yawps of fury and fortissimo bursts of sonic sheets evident on Alleluia! could be reckoned as a musical call to action for those disaffected on the left.
Never ones to make overtures in explicit terms in their lyrics, there is still something cathartic about hearing Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s abstract yet crystal clear musical essays in the wake of storms, the continued neglect of climate change’s impact, persistent wars, debt negotiations, and big money’s unfettered ascendance in the political arena. By demonstrating musical integrity in the face of a changing industry landscape, GY!BE reminds those who dared last time around to set their sights on “hope” that hope without hard work, follow through, and even a measure of stubbornness won’t get them closer to achieving their goals. Is it any wonder why Alleluia’s grim-faced stoicism and musical intensity seems particularly apt in late 2012, even after the specter of a Romney presidency has been banished? Welcome back.