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

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

Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been a familiar name for a long time, but it occurred to me that I’d never actually listened to anything by the band, so I thought I’d better rectify that with this, their seventh album and first in four years.

To start, some background reading: Emerging in mid-’90s Canada, with a name taken from a 1976 documentary about a Japanese biker gang, the band grew from a core trio into an expanded and flexible collective that finally stabilised around a nine-piece line-up. Their long-form experimental brand of instrumental anarcho-political post-rock aims to soundtrack “late capitalist alienation and resistance”. Otherwise, it’s all about the music, to which end the band continue to maintain a low profile with no website or social media presence. They have only ever issued two official band portraits and participated in about half-a-dozen written interviews during their entire 25 year history, but their albums continue to receive acclaim, supported by legendary live performances.

Written on the road (“when that was still a place”) and recorded during the second pandemic wave last autumn (distanced and masked), the nature of the times influenced the resulting work, the band attempting to “summon a brighter reckoning”. It’s a soundtrack for strange times, about “all of us waiting for the end”, the failure of current forms of governance and the potential for a new beginning, and as with previous albums, it’s accompanied by a list of demands, including:

    – empty the prisons.
    – take power from the police.
    – end wars and all other forms of imperialism.
    – vastly increase taxation on the rich.

The four tracks comprise two lengthy ‘side-long’ affairs and a couple of shorter pieces, with generally unwieldy titles. The opening A Military Alphabet… contains several sub-sections, beginning with an unsettling swirl of shortwave radio and electronics that coalesces into a mournful guitar line, easing us into a soothing rhythmic balm. The introduction of a jagged guitar undercurrent with interjections of violin marks a compelling shift, the drone effect carrying into a thrumming ensemble section. You can hear how this would work well in a live setting, the evolving sound collage shifting, gaining momentum and dissipating, beguiling melodies emerging from cacophonous walls of sound. Sophie Trudeau’s violin is a key contribution, adding a more organic element to the music. The final section is an unsettling mix of birdsong and distant gunfire, a fitting end to a very enjoyable 20-minutes.

Fire at Static Valley is more concise, a Parisian police siren leading into plaintive guitar lines. The background drone is again very effective and the result highly moving, rising to an unsettling, almost choral effect. “GOVERNMENT CAME” returns us to shortwave radio conversation, highlighting fear of the motives of those in authority and the tactics of control in these disconcerting times. From the electrostatic fuzz, bass and guitar emerge into a ghostly melody, violin eventually taking a prominent role. It’s a stately piece that takes its time to get to where it needs to be, the energy and intensity rising at the mid-point, slowly subsiding to electrostatics. The end-section rising and falling guitar line feels like a euphoric release, and it’s all very uplifting, slowing to a swirling stop on muffled church bells.

The shouty caps of OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN sounds more like a demand than the actual music itself, which emerges like flood water under a closed door, gradually rising to inexorably swamp everything around it. It’s the finale of all that has come before, a floating and turning ball of possibilities within which all things are entwined, violin emerging delicately to close.

Overall, this is a haunting and widescreen take on post-rock, soaring and elegiac, often eerily beautiful, held together with subtle atmospherics amid staticy harshness. As a late-night, listening in the dark, let it all wash over you album, and a very relaxing listen. That’s not to suggest that it’s “easy listening”, there’s spikiness, but it is deployed in a sensitive way. To be honest, I’m surprised that I find it as relaxing as I do. It really isn’t what I was expecting, but it’s all the better for that and I’ll certainly be digging into their other releases.

01. 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) (20:22)
02. Fire at Static Valley (5:58)
03. “GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE (19:47)
04. OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.) (6:30)

Total time – 52:37

Aidan Girt – Sitting & Standing Drums
David Bryant – Electric Guitars, MG-1 Synth
Efrim Manuel Menuck – Electric Guitars, OP-1 Synth, Radios
Mauro Pezzente – Electric Bass
Michael Moya – Electric Guitars
Sophie Trudeau – Violins, Organ
Thierry Amar – Electric & Upright Bass
Timothy Herzog – Sitting & Standing Drums, Glockenspiel
Karl Lemieux – 16mm Projections
Philippe Leonard – 16mm Projections

Record Label: Constellation Records
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 2nd April 2021

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Bandcamp