Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
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Godspeed You! Black Emperor (hereafter referred to as 'GY!BE') and I have a strange relationship. I am, it must be said, a post-rock devotee. I can, and will, listen to it all day. I lap up 15 minute instrumental songs. And GY!BE are the grand-daddies of post-rock. One of the benchmark bands, alongside Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky, against which all others are measured. So, I should, logically, love them. Be in awe of them, even. But...
Not the most prolific of bands, this is only the 4th album from the Canadians, and their first for 10 years. With that in mind, you might think that they’d have tried a bit harder.
To be fair, opener ‘Mladic’ (a reference, presumably, to everybody’s favourite Bosnian Serb alleged genocidal war criminal, Ratko Mladic) is a total beast of a song. One of two 20 minute behemoths on the album, it starts typically slowly, with a bit of squally middle-eastern sounding fiddling over a droning synth, and some odd chirping noises, like a flock of metal birds or a basket of robot kittens. After about 4 minutes, it all resolves into a jangling, sleigh-bell-like rhythm and a developing throb which kicks into full effect on the seven minute mark. We’re into 1972 Hawkwind territory now, bass-driven, pummelling space rock, still with that little eastern spice, but thankfully without the honking saxophone. 14 minutes in, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the end is nigh, as the song winds down, but no! There’s more! The next 4 minutes or so puts me in mind of Crippled Black Phoenix at their most bombastic and orchestral - which is no bad thing – then it all flops down exhausted onto the sofa with a minute or so of saucepan bashing. And out. Quality!
And then, this.
Song 2, ‘Their Helicopters’ Sing’, the shortest on the album at six and a half minutes. But what of it? It sounds, to me, like a recording of an orchestra tuning up, with the volume being slowly turned up. Rumbling tympani, droning strings, odd tuneless bagpipe honks... I can understand the use of a swelling sound to create some kind of tension, but only if there is some kind of pay-off. A dramatic climax. A glorious melody which emerges from the drone. But no. Not here. It swells, and it fades. That’s all. Just a vaguely unsettling, tuneless disappointment. Or maybe I’m missing the point. And that fucking apostrophe annoys me.
‘We Drift Like Worried Fire’ is another marathon at near 20 minutes and, at first, everything you would expect from GY!BE. Loooong slow build up, spooky strings, repetitive melody, etc. building to a mid-song climax which, somewhat disappointingly, could be by any number of other bands. A case of the originators imitating the imitators?
After a short, fingernails-on-a-blackboard string interlude, the song builds again with a tense and claustrophobic orchestral passage, rhythmic and strangely threatening, which picks up pace towards the 16 minute mark and one of the few genuinely thrilling episodes on the album, a couple of minutes of driving guitar and bass, battering drums and soaring stings. This would seem to be a good place to stop, but there’s another short quiet/build/climax section which is nice, but seems oddly tacked-on.
And finally, oh dear... ‘Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable’. Eight and a half minutes of electronic humming drone. Charge me with sacrilege if you must, but what a waste of fucking time. Pointless and annoying.
And that’s the thing about this album. This is why I just can’t love GY!BE. One amazing song in ‘Mladic’, worth 5 Beards on its own, one standard GY!BE song and fifteen minutes of wasted time. Maybe they’re having a laugh at our expense. I hope so, because that’s better than the alternative, that they’re deadly serious. Because that would mean that songs like ‘..Printemps Erable’ are pretentious wank, and that would make me sad.
Posted: Wed 10 October 2012