This is the most important release of 2021. Whether you’re a casual music enjoyer or hardcore sonic enthusiast, the return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor is big news. From their enigmatic beginnings, the Montreal collective have been a force to watch grow. Their early catalogue is often placed among the best records of all time, and still remains as some of the most impactful music in modern times. F♯A♯∞ (1997) and Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! (2000) have been revered as classics, though their age only now eclipses two decades. When you think post-rock, you may think Sigur Rós or Mogwai and their brilliant interpretations in the modern age. You may think of Talk Talk, perhaps the progenitor of the entire style. You could think of Swans or Black Country, New Road, who, among many, continue to reinvent and push the genre’s boundaries to this day. But no other is more iconic, intriguing and, arguably, impressive than GY!BE
The (now) octet’s music always has be somewhat of a mystery to decipher, what with its long drone usage and heavy sampling from a variety of sources. But G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is the group’s first outward political statement, which is undeniably important to the context of this record. A statement, released with the announcement of the record, from the band is below:
“we wrote it on the road mostly. when that was still a place.
and then recorded it in masks later, distanced at the beginning of the second wave.
it was autumn, and the falling sun was impossibly fat and orange.
we tried to summon a brighter reckoning there,
bent beneath varied states of discomfort, worry and wonderment.
we fired up the shortwave radios again, for the first time in a long time.
and found that many things had changed.
the apocalypse pastors were still there, but yelling END TIMES NOW where they once yelled “end times soon”.
and the transmission-detritus of automated militaries takes up more bandwidth now,
so that a lot of frequencies are just pulses of rising white static,
digital codexes announcing the status of various watching and killing machines.
and the ham-radio dads talk to each other all night long.
about their dying wives and what they ate for lunch and what they’ll do with their guns when antifa comes.
this record is about all of us waiting for the end.
all current forms of governance are failed.
this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning,
and is informed by the following demands=
empty the prisons
take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.
end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.
tax the rich until they’re impoverished.
much love to all the other lost and lovely ones,
these are death-times and our side has to win.
we’ll see you on the road once the numbers fall.
xoxoxox god’s pee
montreal, quebec, kanada
1 march, 2021″
This hefty poetic brilliance tackles police, prison, guns, religion, imperialism and wealthy disparity, and its safe to say these themes are all reflected on the record they wrote in response, among others. Yet the band has subtly mentioned these before, with the heavy use of military radio chatter on older records, as well as many of the concepts on Yanqui U.X.O (2002) and Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (2012) relating to militarism, war and genocide. What then, makes this record any different than the rest? I believe context is perhaps the most important aspect of this, but we shouldn’t get too muddled in attempting to decipher the group’s entire ethos and ideology in this review. I also haven’t mentioned the memery behind the title of this record (particularly the ‘God’s Pee’), but this boils down to more history of the artist. We will mention these aspects where needed, but at the end of it all, all we have is the music on G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!
Four tracks makes up this release, with two primary, near-twenty minute tracks, and two shorter, supporting tracks, like all post-Yanqui U.X.O-era/post-reformation GY!BE, and this one serves as one of the lengthier efforts in this category at 52 minutes. For those unfamiliar with the group (thank you for reading this far in, it only gets more music-nerdy from here), the outfit’s sound can be best categorized as symphonic, cinematic, and entirely epic. Built around emphasizing dynamic variance, each larger cut utilized multiple movements to convey the monolithic story the collective tries to tell. This obviously isn’t your traditional rock band, and they are completely aware of this in their approach, and has been for over 20 years.
Let’s look at the first track: “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).” What a title, huh? At twenty minutes and twenty-two seconds, this four movement opener is exactly GY!BE at their peak. Luring you in with an ominous opening, courtesy of dizzying radio chatter and swelling symphonics courtesy of the string instruments (which include upright bass and violins, among normal rock instrumentation), this track really begins with a gorgeous, gradual swell of instrumentation during ‘Job’s Lament.’ A crunchy guitar enters around the six minute mark, which helps the previously present guitar establish a wonderfully familiar melody, and crash hits and bass drum patterns enunciate the peaks. The meditative, militaristic and sonically luminous section that follows is classic for the group, as they build to the roaring climax towards the end of the section, with a flurry of guitars on top of one another as a wall of instrumental bliss fills the mix. This continues further in the following movement, ‘First of the Last Glaciers,’ where the momentum is picked up almost instantly charging forward into the ending of the cut. Our melody comes back in a new form, with guitar duetting violin as both soar high towards heaven and crawl helplessly back towards earth in tandem. The cut quiets and slows gradually, and feels almost psychedelic in its approach, but the symphonics close the track even more beautifully, droning out into the final movement, where small explosions bring the track to a close.
“Fire at Static Valley” follows after this, and brings with it a somber dirge heavily driven on droning symphonics and bleaker melodies. The fake ‘crescendocore’ genre tag aptly fits GY!BE‘s sound, and particularly this track, and the surge of instruments pile onto the thumping bass drum pattern and guitar lead lines. This ‘break’ is somewhat needed after the intensity of the previous cut, and it segues wonderfully into the next epic track, entitled: ““GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE.”
The eerie opening to the first movement (also the record’s longest, and over 11 and a half minutes) with howling winds and garbled screaming is perfectly matched by the eerie bass notes that pierce through the static around 2 minutes in. Guitar and drums become added, playing spastic and dissonant rhythms and melodies. The synthesizer’s chirp wails like a ghost, hidden in the wall of the uncomfortable room that the rest of the instrumentation create, while the guitar melody that we began with devolves into an disorienting roar. The beat picks up around the four and a half minute mark, where a semblance of structure first introduces itself. The melodies retain the almost bittersweet quality of the cut before it, and while bright in tone, the music itself sounds like the end of a film where the villain has completely succeeded in their evil plot (try No Country For Old Men, or Avengers: Infinity War I suppose). The band hasn’t left us completely in the dark, however, as the latter half of this movement begins to pick up speed, and the instruments begin to climb once again to the soaring heights the group is famous for. The ringing violins after around the eight and a half minute mark begin to signal the next change, where a transition to a more aggressive and involved resolution begins to form after the earlier nine and a half minutes. Descending chordal changes and layers of strings, synth and guitars bloom underneath the rumbling rhythm section, and give a glimpse of life before the noise and drone fade into a quiet whir to bring us to the next movement.
I don’t want to explain too much, because what I have expounded on isn’t how GY!BE is meant to be listened to. I’ve attempted to provide some sort of sonic context for those uninitiated, but ultimately, it’s futile. G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is, like the rest of the Canadians’ catalogue, meant to be absorbed on an individual basis. I will not exaggerate when I say my mood instantly shifts when I listen to one of this group’s records. From the iconic opening words in “The Dead Flag Blues” (F♯A♯∞, 1997), I have already begun my descent into true sadness, which that record invokes incredibly well. The same can be said with the eponymous opening melody of “Storm” (Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!, 2000), which prepares me for the rollercoaster of the loss of innocence and blossom of adulthood I am soon to experience over the next 90 or so minutes. This record certainly has a message, and it is doing its best to convince you to listen to it, yet the only thing can be truly explained about these albums is that they are, each and every one, irrefutably unique and amazing feats of music in their own right.
To end this essay, I have only one thing to really say. Just listen to it. No thinking is needed, just sit back, and let the emotion spring forth from the musical void and demand your attention. There is truly nothing like this band, and G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is just another testament to this. It is also, somewhat of a welcomed return to form for the group, and again places them as one of the greatest artists of all time, whose ideas of songwriting, aural aesthetic and sonic exploration are masterful with every example. This is Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and this is the most important, and in this reviewer’s somewhat informed opinion, best record of the year, with very little room for change.
Final Verdict: “We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death”
Favorite Tracks: “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),” “Fire at Static Valley,” ““GOVERNMENT CAME” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise / ASHES TO SEA or NEARER TO THEE,” “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.)”
FFO: Just listen to this band, already
G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! is out now on all major streaming services, via Constellation!