Monday, October 15, 2012

REVIEW: "Allelujah! Don't Bend, Ascend" - Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Every now and then an album makes its way into my consciousness that affects me on a much deeper level than should be possible, and this year it's the new album "Allelujah! Don't Bend, Ascend!" by Canadian musical collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor. These masters and forefathers of the post-rock genre are back after around a decade's hiatus, and I never realized how much I missed them until I started listening to "Mladic", the 20-minute opening blast of furious noise that tells you right out of the gate that this is more than just awesome music.

This album contains only four tracks (two 20-minute epics and two 6-minute drones) but manages to be more full of content than pretty much anything else I've heard this year. Not a second of music is wasted as layers of sound build upon cascades of melody working slowly but surely into a ferocious crescendo, but, unlike they're peers Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai, not a single build sounds forced or artificial on this album; everything is exactly as it should be, and thank God. These are not mere sketches like those we saw on the last Explosions In The Sky album ("Take Care, Take Care, Take Care") nor are they the brief sonic workouts found on Mogwai's "The Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will"; each of these 4 tracks is a fully formed statement.

So the question begs to be answered: What exactly are these statements saying? Well that's open to interpretation for perhaps the first time in Godspeed's career. The only info we're given is an album title, four song titles, a stark cover of a shack in the desert (reminds me of 2009 film "The Hurt Locker"), and an opening pronouncement: "With his arms outstretched". Vague information to be sure, but that's the beauty of it. Unlike the more politically pointed albums of this group's past, "Allelujah" allows itself to be fit into whichever theme best fits with our own lives. For me, it was an obvious dissertation on the conflicts of the Middle East as violins sounded like Muslim calls to prayer and the titles and cover (as I've already mentioned) bring to mind images of the raging "War on Terror". This devastation was apparent throughout all four tracks as darkness creeps in early with violent noise and dissonance dominating the first two tracks. However, in track 3 ("We Drift Like Worried Fire") there seemed to be some beautiful moments of hope; a phoenix rising out of the ashes. But like any great Shakespearean tragedy, even those moments of beauty are swallowed by the chaos, giving way to the closing drone ("Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable"), a haunting way to end an album that seemed, if ever so briefly, to be eucatastrophic.

It's remarkable, really, that amid all of this emotional turmoil, tension and release, dissonance and harmony, love and hatred, droning and melody, construction and destruction, there is room to call this entertainment, but entertainment it is, and, God, does it accomplish.


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