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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

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Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Album: ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

Label: Constellation

Review date: Oct. 16, 2012

Descending from the heavens (well, Montreal) in 1997 when a vortex swirled around the future of music, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s disappearance in 2002 — once we’d all settled into that endless band chase of the new and the now — seems, in retrospect, like an inspired refusal to keep up with the agitated reach for ears. Last time we heard from Efrim Menuck and Co., the political scuffling with a post-9/11 American climate was well underway; it’s fitting that they emerged again in the wake of the “Occupy” movement. In the midst of an election grappling with the aftermath of Bush-era decision making, they dropped the cool dark bomb of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!.

There was something of a nervous fear during the 2010 touring of GY!BE that they’d settled into the nostalgia phase of their career, but ‘Allelujah! puts that to rest. Looking back, it was clearly just an opportunity to get their mojo back in preparation for the new album. The LP’s two lengthy tracks, “Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” features the ensemble wading its way through the junk yard of rock, sounds colliding in a Swans-like march toward a horizon that seems surprisingly optimistic. A violin’s hymn carries the march in the latter, something of a surprise attack against those pounding drums that beat a thunderous path. Spiralling upward in a frenzy, the track peaks in a thrilling moment of guitar riffs, echoing the hallowed sounds of the trill of chimes.

These longer tracks have been in the band’s live repertoire for a while, so the sound is second nature and the discipline zen-like. The anfractuous lengthier tracks cushion the lighter, short pieces, “Their Helicopters Sing” and “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable.” The former is initially an industrial scramble that belts its discordant way into a melodic rise, the latter a hodgepodge of molested strings, pooling and convocating over the top of some drone fracas.

As with the past recordings, the political opinions persist in the undertones and framework of the sounds. A case in point is “Mladic,” the 20-minute opener that references Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb former military leader accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. “With his arms outstretched, can you get him? Can you see him? No. Shoot.” is repeated in a chilling mantra that serves as an introduction to Sophie Trudeau’s violin that’s in turn the inception for familiar anxiety-ridden drone. The album iconography is littered with images that imply violence: a dead bird on a road; a lone hut abandoned in a post-war zone; the abstruse beauty of a drive-in theater billboard that stands empty.

The band self effacingly refers to their sounds as “god’s pee,” and one gets the sense they’re reaching for a now unobtainable purity defiled by their popularity. “Fame” and “serious” make poor bedfellows, “indie” has become a genre, and under the weight of all this comes the cry ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! What’s important, however, is the music, and this is a teeming, writhing thrill ride of a record at peace with itself and its place in the world — whatever that place and that world may turn out to be.

By Lisa Thatcher

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