Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Unlike many of the reviewers who have contributed their thoughts on Godspeed You! Black Emperor's first album in almost a decade, my life was not forever changed by the Canadian post-rock act. When I was first exposed to their music I liked them, quite a bit actually, but Godspeed's sprawling, lush soundscapes didn't appeal to me as strongly as Sigur Rós' or Mogwai's did, and the lengthy spoken audio samples that occasionally grace their songs (here I am thinking particularly of "BBF3" off of Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada) were, for me, an unpleasant, unnecessary distraction from the music. It's quite telling that a few years after discovering Godspeed, I would soon fall head over heels for Explosions in the Sky and, later, the criminally underrated pg.lost. Now, this isn't to say I couldn't recognize the impact and influence of the band or that I was never floored by any of their efforts—I am merely stating facts: if you had asked me ten years ago who my favorite post-rock acts were, Godspeed You! Black Emperor would have likely fallen just shy of my Top 5 (an important statement for anyone who also had their lives subtly altered by Nick Hornby's High Fidelity and its wonderful film adaptation), and I'm not here to pretend otherwise.
That said, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! has me wanting to go back and see how the rest of Godspeed's catalogue falls on these now late-twenty-something ears. I wrote a fair few reviews of post-rock bands for It's a Trap!—which is sadly, though understandably on hiatus after ten years of near-daily updates by its editor-in-chief Avi Roig—and often found myself namedropping two or three bands with similar sounds. With Godspeed, there are no comparisons to be made to other bands—they sound like no one else; if anything, other bands bear the mark of Godspeed's influence. Opener "Mladic" (a play on "melodic"?) makes this all too clear. I can't imagine another band pulling off a twenty minute effort like that, and the rest of the 4-track record unfolds in similar fashion. Allelujah! is a Godspeed album through and through, and a rather startling and fantastic reawakening of that sleeping beast.
As Slate's article on the album aptly draws attention to, the Drowned in Sound review noted that the two longer tracks--the opener and the beautifully titled "We Drift like Worried Fire"--are not truly "new" songs, but were in the band's live repertoire on their 2003 tour. Drowned in Sound's Andrzej Lukowski goes on to remark, and rightly so:
"This seems to have already disappointed a few folk who wanted more in the way of reassurance as to the band’s songwriting prowess as of 2012. I kind of see what they’re saying, but the band’s achievements really shouldn’t be understated: taking 40 minutes of doomy, dreamy neo-classical apocalypse rock, relearning it—presumably from decade-old tapes
—and then rearranging and recording it for a different nine piece band to the one that played it originally, and then making it good... well that’s decent going."
What Godspeed have accomplished on this latest album should not be understated: reentering a world they left after 2002's Yanqui U.X.O., where many of their contemporaries have since become staples of television and film (hell, even Mittens Romney's a fan of Friday Night Lights), and to create (or, if you are going to be a stickler about those circa 2003 jams, "recreate" for the most part) an album of this caliber is no small feat.
Even if, like me, you weren't the world's biggest Godspeed You! Black Emperor fan before their lengthy hiatus, Allelujah! is worth a listen. And since it is streaming for free, you don't have much to lose. You know, other than an hour of your life. That you'll never get back.