Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!”

There’s reason to be excited – truly ecstatic, even – for the new LP from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The record, titled G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! and out now via Constellation Records, doesn’t trudge over much new terrain, doesn’t turn over new tea leaves or undisturbed stones. But, as an expression of the band’s overtly signature sound and paralleled political ethos, it is, without much doubt, the best record the Montreal post-rock ensemble has put together since 2000’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. And that, my friend, is no goddamned small feat.

The record starts with something very telling about the direction that the tone of the record will take. While Ian MacKaye’s Coriky trio applied Shakespearean connotations to our nation’s anonymous killing machines in the sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor simply records and replays the machine’s codex, a short-wave-captured recording of its white-noise alphabet. It’s fitting for a record that seems obsessed with the end of hierarchies and ideological structures; the ensemble always has provided long songs, opuses, often, with apocalyptic overtones – here, they’re just made very literal.

After some bass that sounds like bagpipes to open “A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind),” we’re treated to a simple, spare and repeating motif on electric guitar that is masterful in its Minimalist heat and expansion. While recent GY!BE records sometimes have become vehicles for bombastic crescendos and aural fireworks, the opener on STATE’S END! takes its time (and then some) to build tension and texture with graduated effects. The result is a faux-lament that takes nearly 10 minutes to fully unfold. When it does completely unfurl, the screwdrivers scraping out notes on half-busted distorted guitars that soar, the pay-off is magnificent.

One could author chapters – perhaps a 33 1/3 installment, someday – about the beautiful compositional nature of “A Military Alphabet,” which, in true GY!BE form, is epic in both scale and structure. There’s a moment about 13 and a half minutes into the 20:22 run time where much of the soaring noise instantly falls away and the band, complete with bandleader Efrim Menuck’s guitar scales, kind of shuffles along, muted. It’s breathtaking stuff. But there’s a lot of breathtaking stuff on the LP. While the two “main” compositions – “A Military Alphabet” and the third track of four, “GOVERNMENT CAME,” which nearly breaks 20 minutes, too – are both excellent, the band shows an unusually deep attention to what, for lack of better terms, could be called its interstitials. “Fire At Static Valley” is, at “just” 5:58, the record’s shortest offering but Menuck’s finger-picked brand of six-string melancholy on the track is arresting. And it is beautifully accompanied by a full-band noise-drone that sounds like a million bees buzzing in your bonnet – an incredible detail. Closer “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (For D.H.)” devastates while not resorting to cacophonies. The percussion-less piece, which sort of somberly floats along with the listener’s natural ebb and flow through six minutes and change, resembles a tender requia for a fallen friend – a comrade, if we may take the leap and call it like it is. There’s amazingly nuanced guitar work on the closing track; the band makes tides of sound and the waves of white noise break in the closing moments to reveal the straight-faced emoting of strings sweetly singing. For a band as quick to cloud its collective identity as this one, it’s a bizarrely personal offering – naked, vulnerable, honest.

GY!BE has been here before. The collective has released brilliant, genre-defining LPs before and, even in its more lackluster or formulaic moments, has risen again and again to its challenges. STATE’S END! is another wonderful chapter in a book we hope will continue to be writ for years. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Hotel2Tango isn’t the only mighty institution in Montreal – God bless God’s pee. We may have a Record of the Year on our hands here. — Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, April 6, 2021

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About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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