Album Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor goes to the end of the world on G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

I’ve never felt the need to share a band’s liner or press notes in a review. But there aren’t a lot of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The musical literacy and depth translate to the page, albeit at a smaller scale, when it comes to explaining new album G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Constellation, April 2

“We wrote it on the road mostly. When that was still a place. And then recorded it in masks later, distanced at the beginning of the second wave. It was autumn, and the falling sun was impossibly fat and orange. We tried to summon a brighter reckoning there, bent beneath varied states of discomfort, worry and wonderment. We fired up the shortwave radios again, for the first time in a long time. And found that many things had changed. The apocalypse pastors were still there, but yelling ‘END TIMES NOW’ where they once yelled ‘end times soon.’ And the transmission-detritus of automated militaries takes up more bandwidth now, so that a lot of frequencies are just pulses of rising white static, digital codexes announcing the status of various watching and killing machines. And the ham-radio dads talk to each other all night long. About their dying wives and what they ate for lunch and what they’ll do with their guns when antifa comes.”

Now, imagine a soundtrack to that.

There’s a bit more, getting into the band’s left-leaning views, loneliness and survival. But they don’t have to spell it out; it’s all there in the music. It sounds like the product of a veteran and artistic Canadian musical collective that prefers salient points over publicity and doesn’t necessarily pine for new converts. It’s an evocative record, both dismal and hopeful, carefully constructed once it picks up enough steam. Fans will likely be glad GY!BE had a pandemic in which to write new music.

Even for an instrumental post-rock band, the four-song (with varying movements) G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! takes patience. More than with 2017’s Luciferian Towers. Opener “A Military Alphabet” sounds like an undefined warm-up, when static slowly evolves into resonant patterns of guitar noise. It’s one of the record’s two 20-minute-plus efforts and needs to be digested entirely (probably a couple times). When it begins to turn, the scales start churning into a slightly pronounced curve, recognizable mostly by its previous absence—like the first course alteration of a long desert highway. However, this desert is on another planet. By the 13th minute, it’s scaled into epic proportions, like the march of a band ready to overthrow something.

Second song “Fire at Static Valley” presents like great background for something else—in this case, your imagination will have to do. Since the band puts so much into its music—it asks more than other so-called post-rock bands like Mogwai and God is an Astronaut, for example—it also asks the listener to work some for their experience. The strings here blend wonderfully with jagged guitar into a dissonate swirl of purposeful noise.

“GOVERNMENT CAME” begins like someone changing channels, looking for something in particular. Once found, the song becomes a soundtrack for the end of the world, with elements evoking a spaghetti western in orbit. This is probably the best song on the record, with multiple levels of guitars scraping out harmony and absolutely demanding the listener’s entire imagination (the subtle but massive tension built by the drums is like a steam engine gaining momentum down the slightest of grades). This song doesn’t confuse daring with complicated and simply ends up opting for sensory battering. And wait for the reckoning—there’s a reason why it lasts more than 19 minutes.

There’s seemingly not as much to final song “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN,” which isn’t as obvious as its title. It’s shifting noise that pulls the listener’s attention like a shifting wind. There’s breathable feeling hinting at something more, but leaves you hanging. Which may be the point.

G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is a mixed bag of thoughtful sound that isn’t for everyone. At the very least, it’s an audio canvas worth its time for those burned out on repetitive commercial music. That, in comparison, could be just about anything.

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