Godspeed You! Black Emperor ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’

[Constellation; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: post-rock, leftish
Others: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Earth, Mog-why

“As soon as you find something you’re into, it’s fed back to you at double the price in a candy-coated distortion of what it is you’ve experienced in your life. This is even a media cliche now. […] It’s obvious — if you’re not vocal about what you’re critical of then you just end up contributing to what it is.”
Efrim Manuck to NME, 1999

“I understand that Godspeed is leftish, and that’s about it.”
Conrad Amenta on Allelujah, Don’t Bend, Ascend

“And so now we thrum our joyous tension in opposition to all of that. Things are not OK. Music should be about things are not OK, or else shouldn’t exist at all. The best songs ever are the songs that ride that line. We just try to get close to that perfection. We drive all night just to get closer to that perfect joyous noise, just to kiss the hem of that garment. We love music, we love people, we love the noise we make.”
Godspeed You! Black Emperor to The Guardian, 2012

“I suspect it’s not the new music on the album that makes this album an event; it’s the band’s re-emergence as a cultural text at this moment.”
Ian Latta on Allelujah, Don’t Bend, Ascend for Tiny Mix Tapes


Abandoned streets, mile signs. Grainy footage of George W. Bush. Raindrops driving down the window of my childhood home, silently, the opening monologue of “The Dead Flag Blues” sounding in my 14-year-old ears as I stare at cloud-covered rooftops. Sheep grazing in a wilderness-wrapped pasture. The Canadian flag, grayscale, upside-down. Beautiful red and white flowers against a field of pink.

I don’t necessarily think it was the tape loop politics that elevated Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s noise into canon. It was the way their songs tended to bend and breakdown, collapse into new movements, and rattle blindsided into the big hallelujah moments.

Melodrama is maybe a lazy criticism for a band that made its (punctuation-shifting, overlong, and melodramatic) name off crescendos and apocalyptic spoken word recordings. When I was coming into something like political consciousness as an impressionable teen in the sheltered bi-level basement of a southern Indiana neighborhood, GY!BE’s maximalist bombastic balance between gloom and doom and resplendent joys felt like the right sort of release for the post-9/11 national anxieties that even a nerd like me could feel ripples of in a landlocked state. I read about the band’s detainment as suspected terrorists and thought how “cool” that was, without going deeper but somehow appreciating how implicated/important they seemed in that moment. It’s hard for GY!BE to feel as relevant, making the same (or at least a similar, if more prog, post-rock) ruckus as before, when the political atmosphere — at least in my intimate and/or tweeted slice of the United States — isn’t the same, if similar. But they do feel as impassioned.

Latta wrote about GY!BE’s successful presentation of failed representation, but what’s it mean that the band continues to develop that same beautiful, aching, grandiose, calculated presentation, other than becoming a facsimile of the failed representation itself? ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’ is not a failure; it’s merely familiar — not as the genre-blurring trips of Lift Yr Skinny Fists or F♯ A♯ ∞, but as the coagulated rock parameters the band had once kept scratching away at. Opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’” does it best of all, a sweeping, doomed swing of the band’s slow-burning engine-uity (the same behemoth chords we remember being awed by in the crowd a few years ago). Best of all like the instrumental swells that were once powerful and determined enough to be conceptualized as protest music. It’s a height that they can’t quite match on rock finale “Piss Crowns Are Trebeled,” which seems like little payoff for the creeping, droning gradient sprawl of “Lambs’ Breath” and “Assunder, Sweet.”

Here, the band seems to retreat from such (was it always over-)determination instead to make joyous, explosive anthems born out of the turmoil, a little less on-the-nose politically, but more on-the-nose noisily. To pay enough attention as even its slowest moments ask, if they don’t always earn, is to recapture an enchanted-incensed headspace of my adolescence. As the music bangs on, as it must, Assunder’s biggest demand is maybe its most predictable and most important: Hope.


Links: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Constellation

Most Read