(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recording review - Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (2012)

 Cleansing noise, organic chaos, and feedback drones herald a fine return

Godspeed You! Black Emperor slipped into indefinite hiatus back in 2003. Fans were heartened when they reunited in 2010 to curate and perform for All Tomorrow's Parties' Nightmare Before Christmas festival, but it's taken another couple of years to get a new album from the band. Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! will certainly please their fan base, although some might mutter about the paucity of new new material. The album clocks in at a respectable 53 minutes on four tracks, but the two long tracks are older songs. "Mladic" and "We Drift Like Worried Fire", formerly known as "Albanian" and "Gamelan" respectively, each run 20 minutes and contrast with the two shorter pieces, both in style and breadth.

"Mladic" opens with a tape loop ("'With his arms outstretched', 'with his arms outstretched'...") and swells of guitar. Sustained guitar, ornamented with violins in bagpipe drag, defines the ground floor of what will grow into a chaotic tower of ragged sonic textures. The noise swirls around, creating an eye of calm to cocoon all within the ringing headphone space. It promises, "submit to the fuzz-laden power and be cleansed." The circle tightens around a single note, with overtones creeping in and away. That tonal center modulates, tuning into a deeper frequency of the universe. The pocket is buffeted by springy pokes of guitar, but remains strong...

That's just the first three minutes. The track carries on to ride through tempo changes, percussive syncopation, and even something resembling a song. Along the way, the sonic tour visits the motor at the center of the world, imagines dimensions where Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music sits at the top of the pop charts, and samples an Eastern European alternative radio station featuring Dick Dale's live performance in Hell. This beautifully evocative chaos is exactly what  Godspeed You! Black Emperor built their reputation on.

"We Drift Like Worried Fire" presents another face. Here, the music acts as score backing a dream. Creaking timbers and drifting tones suggest a rudderless ship in the fog. When we find ourselves delivered onto a crystalline shore, faced with a maze of interlocking guitar lines, there's no choice but to move forward into the indie psyche groove. The paced melodic bass line under the choppy guitars and drums suggest a My Morning Jacket jam, full of transcendent hope. And when a darker tune rises into the cracks of the song and takes over, the creepy tension is still held at a distance by a trick of dream logic.

These epic journeys position the shorter tracks as mere interludes, where six and a half minutes seems like a short form for the band. Both "Their Helicopters Sing" and "Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable" are structured around gentler drones. "Strung Like Lights" offers some feedback-driven angst, but even that dissolves. These songs never coalesce like their larger siblings, but each explores an interesting set of textures. Recorded with smaller line-up and sparser instrumentation, they feel incomplete; their soft focused ambiance acts as a digestif for the longer pieces. 

Less overtly political than earlier releases, Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! relies on subtle clues in the liner notes and song titles to allude to their causes. Whether you're familiar with the Maple Spring protests or not, embrace the noisy catharsis and appreciate that Godspeed You! Black Emperor is back.

No comments:

Post a Comment