Godspeed You! Black Emperor Revisit Past Glories on 'G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!'

BY Matt BobkinPublished Apr 1, 2021

Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always been ahead of the times. The Montreal post-rock legends pushed the boundaries of the then-nascent genre with their earliest releases, and used their liner notes as overtly political missives two decades ago. When they were awarded the Polaris Music Prize in 2013 for their comeback record, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!, they criticized the pomp and circumstance of the gala, and donated the $50,000 prize to charitable organizations dedicated to giving musical instruments to prison inmates in Quebec.

The band's longstanding push for prison and police reform, and an urgent need for unity, have since become popular positions among a growing chorus of believers in the existence of a better world. Godspeed have used their music and platform as a means to campaign for their beliefs — ideas that, both with and without their influence, have amassed far more traction in recent years.

At a time when the band's political subtext is more broadly resonant than ever, they're curiously looking backward, in many ways, on their latest album, G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END! Where each album has toyed with unique structures and composition, like the side-long suites of early works, Allelujah!'s alternating between 12" and 7" discs, or Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress' single, 40-minute-long composition, G_d's Pee is — in an atypical move — an amalgam of previous ideas, oscillating between two lengthy-titled, multi-movement suites and two shorter, more ambient pieces. Whether they're done with such rampant innovation or merely taking a respite (and could you blame them?), their latest album features an all-star cast of stylistic choices from their past 25 years of releases: found-sound fragments absent on their last two releases; stark, twin-image artwork that recalls that of their 2000 sophomore album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven; the placement of their longtime, fan-favourite "God's Pee" nickname front and centre in the album's title. When many have been forced to look inward, they've gone against type and joined the crowd.

Godspeed's best work has always been more about structure than sound, and returning to previous formats has yielded similar results. As always, the band are at the height of their powers when at their most emotively rousing. There are certainly plenty of those moments on G_d's Pee, like the swaying soundscapes of "First of the Last Glaciers," the oceanic wail of "Cliffs Gaze," the rousing climax of "ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE" and the elegiac strings that send off album closer "OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H)." Melody has always been the band's strongest suit, and they deliver plenty here, whether channelling ominous horror or fist-raising triumph. But when recalling their previous efforts, there's an unshakeable feeling that they've done it before, but better — though you can't fault them for doing what so many post-rockers have done over the past 20 years.

With their chosen modes of expression and communication, exaggerated affect has become Godspeed's calling card, and one of their most successful traits. On G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END, many of the extra flourishes are pushed into the background, like the ham radio sound collages that open the two longer tracks. The menacing drawls of "'GOVERNMENT CAME' (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz)" are gone before the insurrectionist messaging can be fully reckoned with, losing the power of its forebears in "Murray Ostril: '...They Don't Sleep Anymore on the Beach...'" from Skinny Fists or even the similarly backgrounded found-sound chorus of "With his arms outstretched" that kicks off Allelujah.

Contrary to many email greetings from the past year, these aren't "unprecedented times," a fact of which Godspeed are well-aware. That's why they're business as usual on G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!, even if that's a mode they've typically before gone out of their way to avoid.

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