Album Of The Week: Godspeed You! Black Emperor Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
I may have heard these songs before. “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” the two 20-minute slabs of epicness that make up the meat of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, were in the band’s live rotation when they blinked out of existence in 2003. That year was also the one time I successfully managed to see Godspeed live — in a Baltimore Masonic Temple where the mysterious symbols circling the beautiful dome were and odd but perfect complement to the obfuscated emotional swells of the music. But I couldn’t say whether they played either of those two songs that night, since the entire concept of “songs” seems pretty small compared to the massive, overwhelming tidal waves of sound you’d hear at a Godspeed show. I don’t remember much of what I saw or heard that night; I just remember disappearing into a mental fugue state, feeling like that music was lifting me up and pulling me apart. It’s one of my all-time favorite live-show experiences, but I don’t know whether the music I heard that night was the same music I’m hearing on their new album, and it doesn’t much matter. What matters is that I’m once again getting a tiny taste of that sensation, and it’s a sensation I’m happy to have back.
Band reunions, lately, have become like phases of the moon; you can almost set your watch by them. I’m a bit sad that I haven’t seen, say, Sleater-Kinney play live since they broke up, but I’m fairly confident that I’ll get another chance to see them. But everything about Godspeed’s recent reunion feels unexpected and fresh. This band always moved in shadow anyway — avoiding spotlights onstage, rarely granting interviews, cloaking the quiet bits of their emo-drone symphonies in crackling bits of radio chatter. When they stopped, it didn’t seem right to believe that they’d ever start up again. But there they are, headlining pretty big rock festivals and crossing the same touring circuit as hundreds of other bands. People who have seen their reunion shows go into breathless rapture the same way people did about them back in the day. And when they did decide to release a new album, they did it with something approaching stealth: Announcing it two weeks before its release, after they’d already started quietly selling it at live shows. There was never any time to anticipate this one; it’s ready to just flatten you out of the gate.
And that’s what it does. Godspeed’s tracks always started out quiet and swelled to raging climaxes, and that’s more or less what they do here too. But here, there’s more going on. Little melodic figures disappear and return. Loud bits flare up and die out before their time. And even the quiet drone moments enrapture; they’re not just the parts you have to get through to reach the catharsis. The two longer songs are different, too. “Mladic” goes for crushing quasi-Middle Eastern groove, and there’s a metallic fuzz-stomp to some of the earth-moving segments. Here and there, the guitars even vaguely recall Dick Dale surf-guitar runs. “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” by contrast, is all heart-bursting beauty, even at its loudest. It’s moments of suffocating prettiness don’t just arrive and leave; they keep coming in waves, everything building into everything else. Those two pieces, and the shorter drones that surround them, unfold based on their own internal logic. It’s hard to imagine a group of musicians sitting around and writing this music. It seems more like something they were lucky enough to pull from the air.
Historically, Godspeed albums didn’t sound like this. They’d approach that power, sometimes, but when they weren’t raging righteously, the music could feel something like an endurance test. Here, they’ve channeled all the power of their live show into a perfectly recorded album, one that pulls you right along with it, that demands you get lost in it. At 55 minutes, A!DB!A! is a relatively short Godspeed album, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to carve out the time necessary to give yourself over to it. To properly process the album, you need to stop obsessively clicking Twitter or your RSS feed, stop fucking around with your phone, ignore the people around you, and just completely dive it. And every time I’ve done that with the LP, I’ve been happy I did.
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is out now on Constellation.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard’s solo debut Former Lives.
• Dan Snaith’s Caribou dance-music side project Daphni’s debut JIAOLONG.
• Pinback’s years-in-the-works comeback Information Retrieved.
• Tamaryn’s narco-folk sophomore album Tender New Signs.
• Yakuza’s mystic prog-metal freakout Beyul.
• Mac DeMarco’s willfullly annoying fuzz-rock album 2.
• Chelsea Wolfe’s stripped-back dark-music LP Unknown Rooms: A Collection Of Acoustic Songs.
• Regal Degal’s arty post-punker Veritable Who’s Who.
• King Dude’s brood-punk debut Burning Daylight.
• Grandaddy frontman Jason Lytle’s new solo effort Dept. Of Disappearance.
• Spank Rock-affiliated dance crew WIN WIN’s sophomore joint Double Vision.
• The Luya’s indie swirl Animator.
• IO Echo’s shoegazing debut EP Ministry Of Love.
• Indesinence’s long-awaited death-doom opus Vessels Of Light And Decay.