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.

Comments (29)
  1. Tom, two months ago in this column, you started off with a seemingly irrelevant paragraph comparing Godspeed and Neurosis live, and now here we are, and they’ve each dropped an amazing and unexpected album on our ears. Maybe this is some new power you have? Want to try starting off next week’s album of the week with a paragraph on My Bloody Valentine and OutKast?

    • There is a guy over at the mbv forum who knows Kevin, and the third album is being mixed as we speak. Some tourdates have been booked, and the band will be rehearsing once the album is mastered.

      • I’ll believe it when it actually comes out but holy shit, new MBV rivals maybe only Godspeed for thing I’ve been most excited to hear.

      • Didn’t Kevin say that the new MBV album is basically going to be songs that were written in the early 90s? Like, it isn’t brand new material, but rather properly recorded material from right around the time they broke up.

        Seeing as how well that technique just worked for Godspeed, I feel I can now envision the day where we are all going bonkers over the new My Bloody Valentine record and how it sounds like they never left.

        I believe in this dream.

        • The new material will not be the stuff that they were working on just after loveless. It will be the finished version of the batch of songs Kevin and Bilinda were working on in the late nineties after Colm and Debbie left the band. It has also been reported that an EP will be released in the spring.

      • holy shit, what? I hope this actually happens.

    • All I want for Christmas is a Talk Talk reunion.

  2. I’m having a really hard time writing about this album, because I keep coming back to: “just listen”

  3. Got my vinyl copy from Constellation yesterday and had a great evening perusing the contents and listening to the album. I just sat on the couch and let it take me over.

    Lots of fun things to note. First off, and for the remainder of this comment, Godspeed has perhaps jokingly started to refer to themselves as “God’s Pee”. The liner notes introduce the band members as “God’s Pee was:”, which is haunting in its own right being past tense.

    Secondly, God’s Pee has always been masters of the vinyl medium. In the mp3 age, it was always odd seeing a band’s discography as a bunch of 10 to 20 minute long songs. But on record, each song has its own side. Contrary to Swans new album that had to cut songs in half and scatter them across 3 LPs in a sequenced order that makes little sense. But on ALLELUJAH! we get one 12″ and one 7″ that covers all 4 songs on this album. The true beauty lies with those with two turntables and a mixer. You can place both records down and seamlessly mix the entire album without having to take the needle off and flip a record. Something that seems small but means the world to me.

    Finally, their live show. God’s Pee has never been a band to put lots of Thank Yous in their liner notes. That space is usually reserved for cryptic messages. But this album does have a few Thank Yous and most notably The Great American Music Hall, a venue in San Francisco. The idea of God’s Pee thanking ANYTHING with the words “Great American” seems backwards and confusing, but then when you realize they did two nights in a row at that venue in 2011 and then a week’s worth of shows between Coachella weekends, it becomes a little clearer.

    I got to attend the 2nd night in San Fran in February of 2011 and remember very little. They did close with “BBF3″ (my favorite God’s Pee track) and I remember standing in the balcony overcome with a decade’s worth of memories as I uttered Blaise’s poem at the song’s end. I too also got to hear the songs formerly known as “Albanian” & “Gamelan” (the new songs on the new album) but I’d be damned if I recall 1 minute of either.

    There isn’t a whole lot to do at a God’s Pee show. Standing gets uncomfortable and the band is so dimly lit and staring at their instruments that there’s really nothing to look at on stage. At the San Fran show I just wandered around the venue with their massive songs soundtracking my exploration of The Great American Music Hall. It’s a pretty venue!

    But the best was when I got to see them at Coachella. What little crowd there was for God’s Pee, about 70% of them sat down in the grass. Everybody got to see the band while sitting and relaxing after a hard second day of heat and standing on feet. I got to smoke with my best friend and put my head in my hands as I let the swells overtake me. I even got to get a good view of the guy that runs the projector during their shows. It sort of made up for how trashed I was in San Fran. Oh well, hungover as the queen in maida vaile.

    tl;dr There is nothing else quite like God’s Pee.

    • God’s Pee on Valentine’s Day 2013, provided Mayans getting it wrong. http://blog.moshcam.com/music-news/godspeed-you-black-emperor-announce-first-oz-tour/

      • Aww yeah, got myself tickets to see Godspeed in Brisbane and then again at ATP in Melbourne with My Bloody Valentine, Swans and The Drones (who are revered here in Aus as much as the others are internationally). I might never have to go to any concert ever again.

    • Still waiting for my vinyl to come in and now I’m kicking myself for even pre-ordering the thing in the first place because I saw them in Detroit on Sunday and could have just bought it there. Anywho, I’m one of those folks who didn’t get into the band until they were already pretty much on hiatus/done/etc., so to finally see them live was, no joke, a privilege. Their music is captivating on stereo and simply takes over your senses in-person.

      Hopefully, “God’s Pee was” is just some dark humor. And thank you, Stereogum, for giving this album the nod this week. More than deserving. A beautiful listening experience.

    • Thank you based God’s Pee

  4. I’ve been diving it almost exclusively for the past week or so. It sounds and feels as if they were never on hiatus. As far as I’m concerned, this is the perfect autumnal music.

  5. Instructions:
    1. Clear calendar.
    2. Clear room.
    3. Lie down.
    4. Turn off lights.
    5. Turn up volume.
    6. Ascend.
    7. Repeat.

  6. The merits of their music aside, no one! abuses! exclamation marks! like this band!

  7. Love the 20 minute epics, but does anyone else think the second track and also the fourth to an extent were just a waste? They feel like pointless ambient drone exercises to me.

    • Oh absolutely not a waste, considering ambient drones is a large portion of what this band does well.

      The way I view them in this album’s context is comedown tracks for the two big epics. So instead of having one go straight into the other, you get some breathing room to pause and reflect on what you just experienced. Their track lengths are actually quite brief for an ambient drone: 6 and a half minutes for what is basically the interlude of the album is fairly brief by God’s Pee standards. Then having an 8 and a half minute ambient drone as the album’s closer is a very thoughtful and considerate way to end such a heavy album.

      But the songs themselves contain instruments you don’t regularly hear in music. Do I hear bagpipes in track 2?

      Another thing to consider is that both drones are on their own separate 7″ on vinyl. Meaning if you wanted to listen to the album’s main tracks, you could just put on the 12″ – play – flip – and listen to just the main tracks without ever taking the two drones out of the package. There in lies one of the many layers of consideration threaded into this album. As the flip side to that is if maybe you just want to drone out for 15 minutes if you aren’t feeling like digesting the big long songs. Either way you want to listen to the album, they put two tracks on two separate records demonstrating the two very well honed styles of God’s Pee.

      Also the 7″ spins at 45rpm so, if you are a nut job like myself, you can spin those drones at 33rpm for a SUPER special effect.

  8. What is incredible is in 2012, in our epoch of faster-than-hell life, we get longer-than-hell epic masterpieces from people in the scene for a while. GYBE! Swans! Neil Young! Oh my. I am younger than all those guys. I am hoping to stay forever young.

  9. Good shout.

  10. Came a little late to this one (3 days..gasp!). But when I found out they had a new album on the Guardian, I “dove” right in and was pretty blown away (as blown away as one can be on work computer speakers mind you). A few hours later I thought, “wonder what the Stereogum crew had to say about the album; I then said to myself “Tom HAS to be the one reviewing this album,” AND I wasn’t disappointed.

    I’m 35, have a kid and a very square job, so it’s a little bittersweet when albums like this come out, because the absence of 3-4 hours to just sit and absorb an album like this one (that requires you do so) is a sad reminder of my youth slipping away (because once upon a time, time was ALL I had). But enough old man laments, tonight 11:00 to 2:00 am is mine!

    You guys ALL rock.

  11. Never really got into this band. I was more excited for the new Pinback, and I wasn’t disappointed by it at all.

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