Exclamation points! Impossibly long thematic gestures! Deliberately obscure-sounding faux words posing as real words! No, it’s not the next presidential debate, but “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” the fascinating new album from everybody’s favorite peculiarly punctuated band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
This album, quietly released at a show in Boston three weeks ago, marks the triumphant return of some of the music industry’s most confounding artists. In 2003, GY!BE declared an indefinite hiatus to allow band members to pursue other musical endeavors.
Their resurgence could not have come at a better time: at another election year crossroads, it marks the not-so-transcendent, but hopefully resurgent affirmation of the center-left.
Or is this all really coincidence? Although GY!BE may have encouraged a political reading of their music in the past (the cover of Yanqui U.X.O, their last record, featured missiles falling from the sky), this album seems like a break from the band’s previously incessant politicization. There are no samples of speeches from Bush (or Obama, for that matter) cut into droning wails, no lyrics about the fall of the American Empire, no liner notes describing cannibal capitalism and the imminent class war.
No, A!DB!A! is mostly just noise: 55 minutes (a paltry length, considering) of drone, and no, not the that kind of drone.
“Mladic” opens with the familiar sounds of a static-y radio on the fritz issuing unintelligible words which soon gives way to the most melodic part of the album—bagpipes howling a twisted rendition of some tune based on a Middle Eastern scale. But the melodicism quickly descends into a flat, ominous, unchanging pitch that harkens the calls of some hellish instrument of doom. This nightmarish sound is tempered only by the faint sound of railroad crossing bells, warning us of the train filled to capacity with heavy metal guitar riffs on it way.
Such is the world GY!BE crafts in its fourth album. It’s desolate—as desolate as the setting of the record’s cover, a hovel in a grainy, monochromatic wasteland—but oddly comforting. The end of the world has never felt so good, as a maximalist sound whose rawness feels comforting rather than overpowering, personal rather than abstract. This record stands apart from others in GY!BE’s discography because rather than climaxing, the music subtly builds upon itself.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor have always had this paradoxical knack for stripping music down to its emotional essence by layering sound upon sound, and here they perfect the technique. The snaking guitar line to “We Drift Like Worried Fire” is given a backbone when the drums’ beat sneaks its way in, taking the audience by surprise but grounding us in an otherwise undulating swath of noise. When the orchestra delicately adds strings into the fray, the result is not crushing but uplifting. The band does it without dynamic explosions, but with a single chugging pulse.
This music grinds away at your soul until you are layed bare before it. When you listen, nothing else matters in the world. Not who wins the election, not your five papers and problem set due next week, and certainly not your Twitter feed.
So maybe this is a political record after all, a statement against the hustle-and-bustle of a modern life filled with excess and trivia (and of the Bowdoin student’s perpetual diagnosis of commitment-philia, perhaps?). Because while A!DB!A! is an ambitious album, it’s devoid of redundancy and superfluity. Unlike the papers I write, there’s no fluff or bullshit here.
Take the time in the coming weeks to lie down and listen to the album the way it demands to be heard, without distraction or mediation. Relish in its contradictions and then, you know, go vote.