Review: After ten years of silence, post-rock artist delivers groundbreaking release


Music Reviewer

Over the past decade or so, post-rock has largely devolved into an overwrought caricature of itself. The tired arrangements of blissful, melodic, and triumphant string arrangements juxtaposed against loud, cathartic bursts of noisy, reverb & delay-laden guitars has been all but commonplace within the genre, with acts crafting pieces that rarely deviate from these lines.

 Within the past two years, Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and Dirty Three – all titans within genre – have put out of a set of releases that, if at times ‘pretty’ and melodically interesting, have sounded monolithic – failing to move past the cookie-cutter template that underpins most post-rock albums today. Moreover, we’ve seen the rise of mediocre imitators (e.g. Yndi Halda, 65daysofstatic, etc.), most of which seem more like failed carbon copies of their predecessors.

In essence, post-rock has become a tired cliché. Yeah, it’s pretty music, but what’s beauty without substance?

During this period, Canadian post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor has remained softly nested under the genre’s gradual descent into mediocrity. The legendary, politically radical collective are perhaps the titans of the genre, crafting masterful, near-perfect albums around the very template that has now become so commonplace. However, after 2002’s Yanqui X.O., Godspeed You! has released no new material, and rumors flooded the blogosphere of the group’s break-up.

Earlier this spring, the group mysteriously came out of the woodwork to announce a world tour and then on October 1st, they quietly announced the release of their forth album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!.

What has always separated the band from their contemporaries is a sense of raw power and aggression, underlying the beautiful, symphonic ambience of their compositions. Nowhere is this more evident than on this most recent release. Opening track ‘Mladic’ opens with a gradually swelling, heavy drone of strings and humming, fuzzed-out guitar. It becomes immediately apparent that the band has evolved. Never before have they sounded this heavy or forceful.

The fluttering spells of noise are difficult, at times, unsettling, yet undeniably beautiful. It powerfully draws the listener into a disparate, barren landscape, and as the piece builds along this droning wall, you are drawn into the world of Godspeed. It’s a sonic landscape of decay, anxiety, and desolation colliding headstrong with beauty and grace.

This is the sound of a band progressing past the contrived post-rock cliché into some far more emotive, compelling, and most importantly, purposeful. The distorted flourishes of feedback, the humming symphonic ambience, — they aren’t there merely for the sake of being there. Instead, the band sounds as if they are consciously attempting to transcend what Quietus editor Luke Turner has fittingly called “a lightness in music that is a perfect aesthetic fit with Hipstamatic and tumblr’s transient, nostalgic goo.”

Contrast this release with something like Animal Collective’s most recent release Centipede Hz. The former is superficially experimental – more like a band trying to get its experimental kicks off at the expense of the songs themselves. Godspeed You! however, does something much, much more. They have created an ambitious, intricately and precisely tuned musical whole that treads new ground, while not losing essential elements of authenticity and human connection.

Godspeed You! presents a two-way exchange between the performer and listener. This is not just ‘pretty music’ to play during the background of your next study session. Instead, it demands that you give your time, your energy, your utmost attention to unearth the grace and beauty amongst the entropic haze underlying these pieces.

‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!. is a seminal release and yet another masterwork in the Godspeed canon. It gives new breath to a genre that has been largely stagnant for the past ten years.