Title: G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!
Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Genre: Post Rock
Released: 2 April 2021
1. A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)
2. Fire at Static Valley
3. “GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE
4. OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END!
I find it hard to articulate exactly what it is I love about Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Their first two albums, in particular, are some of my absolute favourites, but I’ve always found it quite difficult to express what about them I find so great. Instrumental music in general can be hard to discuss in this way. There’s a difficulty that comes with trying to convey what you love about something that has no explicit narrative or meaning to it. Context can help, such as film scores and videogame soundtracks, where the music is supplementary to a more central work of art. And in some cases, the story surrounding an instrumental piece is what defines its quality; William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops”, or “Everywhere at the End of Time” by The Caretaker are examples of this. But Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music exists entirely by itself. Whatever lyrics or field recordings there are within the music remain minimal and cryptic, and their songs often stretch over huge amounts of time, shaping themselves slowly and mysteriously. I can’t explain why I love ‘The Dead Flag Blues’, off their debut album “F# A# ∞”, or the sprawling, melancholy ‘Sleep’ from “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven”. All I can usually let out when listening to them is a silent “Fuck” under my breath, and once the song is over, I’ve usually exhausted most of the emotion that I could have used to muster an explanation.
But it’s this emotional intensity that I love most about Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music. Although I can talk all day about rising crescendos and the constant battle between tension and release that permeates throughout their music, the raw emotion that they’re able to evoke extends far beyond this. Especially within those first two albums, everything is constructed so perfectly, delivering an inexplicably profound experience through the use of dynamic shifts, layering and repetition. Once again, beyond the excellent quality of sound, as well as the brilliant compositional skills of the band, it’s difficult to express how they manage to tap into something so intense and powerful. But after 20 whole years since “Lift Your Skinny Fists”, they’ve managed to strike that same chord as effectively as ever, with “G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!”.
I’d actually go as far to say that “G_d’s Pee” is every bit as good as the band’s first two albums. Although it hasn’t yet attained the same classic status that they’ve managed to garner over two decades of acclaim, this album is something extremely special, and I have no doubt in predicting that 20 years from now, it will sit as one of the band’s most celebrated releases. The group sound stronger than ever, with some fantastic production from Jace Lasek, and the album itself feels like their most concentrated experience to date.
The first track, which has been split into four separate parts for the purposes of streaming services, is breathtaking and multifaceted, kicking the album off with some unsettling field-recordings and radio signals, before slowly building into an absolutely huge, triumphant post-rock soundscape. The first two subsections of this song, ‘Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind)’, and ‘Job's lament’, are particularly effective, creating tension through ascending riffs and a commanding rhythm guitar/bass backbone. ‘First of the Glaciers’ is a direct continuation from here, but brings the track to its denouement, developing and reshaping the motifs from the first half of the song in order to bring them to a serene conclusion. The entire song spans about 20 or so minutes, including a short epilogue featuring field recordings of distant gunfire, but in that time, it covers so much ground that this could have functioned as a standalone release from the band in of itself. It’s really fantastic, and manages to generate some extremely vivid imagery and emotion. As per usual for the band, it’s hard to tell if you’ve been listening to them play the same riff for 20 seconds, or 20 minutes; but it’s this hypnotic, sometimes even meditative state that it captures, that makes it so excellent.
The song that continues on from here, ‘Fire at Static Valley’, is a despondent and haunting piece, feeling like a forewarning for an imminent and inevitable calamity. It’s beautiful, but despairing, and leads perfectly into the second lengthy track of the album, “GOVERNMENT CAME”. This song, also being split into two parts for the purposes of streaming, mirrors the opening sequence by reprising the very first motif that was established back in ‘Military Alphabet’; a heavily distorted guitar riff that would slowly develop into the Herculean ‘Job’s Lament’. Here, however, it feels defeated and weak. And rather than transforming spectacularly into a powerful opus, it instead delves further into dejection and hopelessness. Whether this reprisal is signifying a separate side to the same coin, or is simply in reference to the beginning of the album, is up to interpretation. But one thing is for sure; either way, both of these long-form tracks are extremely evocative and effective.
“GOVERNMENT CAME” does eventually manage to find solace amongst its turmoil, however, with its second section, ‘cliff’s gaze’ managing to rebuild itself from the ashes of the song’s first half. It’s an optimistic conclusion, and brings the album to its final track, ‘OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (For D.H.)’, a cautiously hopeful, beautiful piece that closes off the album. This final song gives echoes of Max Richter, pulling similar emotional strings as his music, and creating an atmospheric work of art that rounds out “G_d’s Pee” really well. Similarly to how “GOVERNMENT CAME” acted as a counterpart for ‘Military Alphabet’, this track feels like the antithesis of ‘Fire at static valley’. Where that song felt uncertain and tense, bracing for the possibility of impending doom, ‘OUR SIDE’ instead embraces this uncertainty. It may not be a cathartic conclusion for the album, but there’s a profound sense of acceptance that flows through it.
The most effective moments of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music, however, come in the smallest and most unexpected places. Mentioning the overarching dynamic shifts and the structure of the songs on this album doesn’t really do any of it justice. Instead, it’s the subtle addition of a backing instrument, or the shifting of a chord, or slight changes to the tempo and rhythm, which give their music the strangely inexplicable quality that it has. I still have a very hard time explaining what I love about this band, including this album. And I think that’s part of what makes them so great. There’s so much that you’re able to get out of their music, from personal interpretation of the musical themes, to more passive enjoyment, which makes it a fantastic experience. “G_d’s Pee” manages to evoke a deep emotional reaction, just like “F#, A# ∞”, or “Lift Your Skinny Fists” did, 20 years ago. Although I still might not be able to express to someone exactly what I love so much about it, without rambling on like a nutcase for half an hour, all I really have to do is put on the album. And without any further need for explanation, a silent “Fuck” under the breath is all that really needs to be said.