Although they haven’t been exactly quiet or dormant in exactly the ten years since 2002′s Yanqui U.X.O., on paper the band arguably disappeared without a breakup or official statement of hiatus. Yanqui was released after Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, the band’s epic breakout that broadcast their signature brand of post rock to the listening audience and spawned hundreds of sound-a-likes in its wake. Then embarked on a world tour leaving an indelible mark on the masses. Anyone fortunate enough to see the band in this era certainly witnessed the height of the movement’s arc. Shortly thereafter the band went quiet as a hub, but Constellation and the Godspeed players worked on other things. Efrim put out his sole solo album just last year with the surprisingly rewarding High Gospel. Even Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band (with Choir) (Reveries) (etc), the closest thing to a Godspeed-proper lineup, managed to fit in several albums, EPs, and tours since the band went quiet.
Constellation branched out of the Montreal scene a bit with new material by The Tindersticks and Vic Chesnutt while perpetuating sounds by mainstays like Do Make Say Think, Sandro Perri (Polmo Polpo), and even Hanged Up (as a collaborative effort with Tony Conrad earlier this year). Some of these “new” acts seem to have even replaced old Constellation heavyweights, with Eric Cheneaux or Carla Buzolich as the new Frankie Sparo. Glissando 70 or Elfin Saddle as the new RE: or Exhaust.
But again, Yanqui and the height of the band’s popularity was basically ten years ago and the times certainly have changed. George W. Bush was the most powerful leader of the free world and the Patriot Act was fresh on everyone’s tongue. Technology and music was ramping up with the impending release of the first iPod and this was grim music with a statement. Long form pieces with lofty intentions and grim yet optimistic messages of anti-establishment and hope. Godspeed’s ambitious politics-meets-music M.O. and unique, EXCLAMATORY! and HAND!-MADE! aesthetic was undeniably passionate. It really was a craft, straddling the line between the small-scale projects with DIY ethics and the new widespread fan base wanting in on all things Godspeed. Maybe the members felt the project needing a break; some breathing room to not fizzle out or undermine the message. Maybe they were intending the project to live a short life from the get-go. Or maybe we’re all over-thinking the entire thing and we all cared more about Godspeed more than Godspeed did.
Whatever the reasons may be, no one was expecting the news of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! to come completely out of the blue, only two weeks before the album’s official release. Filling a curious gap in Constellation’s catalog. Allelujah seems to fall comfortably in place in the Godspeed’s narrative. There was little PR or buildup of any kind, actively reducing the potential for hype or celebration from the get-go. It almost seems like an album solely for the band’s and their still-rabid fans’ enjoyment, which makes its importance and relevance ultimately left up to you.
Almost certainly, Allelujah will disappoint as many fans as those pleased with new material. This is a band that’s ten years older than before, and some things have changed (see the band poking fun at itself by listing “God’s Pee” in the spine and in the album credits). True, it’s short on field recordings or narrative of any kind. And the two side-long songs are surprisingly straightforward, setting their sites on a point and obliterating everything in their paths. But Allelujah answers with substantial formatting and pure intensity. Presented as a combined 7″ and 12″ set with the 7″s hosting two integral drone-tracks to seamlessly meld the entire album together, forcing the listener to experience the final set as intended. And it’s totally worth it.
The track opens with a darkly comical excerpt, assumingly capturing a military recording of two specialists attempting to hone in on a suspect. Communication fails them, as surveillance is lost and both parties give up. (“With his arms outstretched. can you get him? Can you see him? Nope. Shoot.”) The scene is only a few seconds long but suggests a comical failure of high-end surveillance and tracking. The recording fizzles away as Sophie Trudeau’s sprawling violin spirals up in a brilliant display. This section soon too breaks away for a dreadfully grim drone of sustained electric instruments, each instrument and its player fading in and layering on with impeccable restraint and intensity. As the tension mounts, so does the rhythm and instrumentation. Guitars/bass/drum start to resemble recent-era Swans with calculated restraint and barely-contained ferocity. Once the weathered riff rings in, Godspeed’s globally-affected rock tendencies are on full display. The action heaves and ho’s in a spiraling chaos, recalling the best moments of Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada before clearing way for the hypnotic street percussion that closes out the side. “Their Helicopters Sing” is the first taste of the transitional drones making up the album, fully deserving of the standalone 7″ pressing. The seven minutes of foreboding strings smear the dark tones and whet the appetite for Allelujah‘s second half.
With “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” Godspeed could have blown it out completely but decide to bring the ferocity with an optimistic lens. Much like the desolate melody introducing the track, the direction is aimless and in shambles after “Mladic’s” implosion. The tune soon finds its way, quickly turning into an upbeat rollick with good intentions. “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable” closes out Allelujah as a deceivingly solemn meditation on the recent action. It’s all over, but the resolution is ambiguous.
So whether Godspeed You! Black Emperor is relevant or exciting in 2012 is totally up to you. They aren’t rewriting a genre or blowing the minds of the masses, but they aren’t really aiming to either. Will you listen yourself?