Epic multi-part compositions, long crescendos, drones and field recordings, gloomy moods giving way to cathartic orchestral climaxes—yes, it’s another Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. There are now more post-reunion albums than pre-hiatus ones, and the recent output has taken on greater weight in the overall oeuvre. It may feel rote to those who are not true believers, but the new albums confirm, once again, that GY!BE are undeniably good at what they do.
G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! (we’ll come back to the title later) comprises two long compositions (tracks one and three) that move through the familiar dramatic motions in relatively satisfying fashion, interspersed with two shorter, moodier pieces (tracks two and four). Of the long pieces, the second, “‘GOVERNMENT CAME’ (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE,” is the more successful, its ebbs and flows building from free-form guitar squalls and impressionistic drums to a swaying 6/8 dirge and thence to a triumphant, anthemic climax. By contrast, the first long composition, “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),” is a less bespoke emotional journey, more 1975-vintage prog rock. The two short tracks, “Fire at Static Valley” and “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for DH),” find GY!BE in gloomy drone mode; they play prettily and evocatively, but the contrast between music and title—the mood of “Fire at Static Valley” is rather wetter and foggier than you would think, that of “OUR SIDE” substantially more melancholy—is a bit bathetic.
Which leads me to the fundamental tension in GY!BE—the one between the well-wrought music and the group’s anarchist politics, always in the background of the music in the convoluted song titles and portentous liner notes-cum-artist statements. Yet impossible as the politics (and half-jokey, half-obscurantist poetics, for that matter) are to ignore, the fact is they seem basically irrelevant to the music itself; there are many ways to imagine anarchist music and music-making, including agitprop punk, noise, and free improvisation, and GY!BE’s meticulously crafted dramatic spectacles wouldn’t seem to fit the bill. It’s not as though the band’s politics aren’t timely—the album’s statement reads, in part, “empty the prisons. / take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise. / end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism. / tax the rich until they're impoverished.” But they suggest a programmatic approach to the music that feels fundamentally at odds with the music itself. The whole “G_d’s Pee” business is similarly inscrutable; I suppose they are trying to be funny and poetic at once, as is their wont, but the effect is rather lost on me.
Nevertheless, leaving aside all context, the album is quite strong on its own merits—a satisfying entry in a great band’s catalogue.