For many people trudging through the mud that is today’s Internet, you probably don’t remember what it was like to only find out about records a few days before they were actually released.
The excitement you got when you looked at the little chalkboard behind the cash register at Sam the Record Man – RIP – and saw your favorite band written with a title and tentative release date. It was, for lack of a better term, joyous.
Press cycles were mostly irrelevant back then. You heard songs in record stores or from tapes stole from your older brother. You went to shows early to find out about new bands. Sure, you had endless choices, but you also had to make choices.
Musically, in 2002, when cacophony that is Godspeed You! Black Emperor last hit record, things were still slightly better. Times weren’t; we were in the midst of eight years of political upheaval, attacks and wars with no end in site, but the Internet was changing how music was recorded and shared. We didn’t see the disastrous end state and it hadn’t broken down into a free for all, so bands like GYBE were able to sprawl across genres and messages without worrying how the songs would be received.
Today, bands don’t get that chance. Songs are stolen and tucked into remote folders on portable hard drives almost instantly. Asking fans to sit through 20-minute journeys or flip vinyl over after each song is a foreign concept and that’s why the surprise release of Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! seems so crucial. Two weeks notice, that’s all we got. No unnecessary emails from publicists about track lists and cover art and certainly not enough time to consume and discard the music before it hit the streets. The band didn’t want to make this an easy listen – sonically or as a result of the format they packaged the songs – and only asked for your complete, undivided attention.
In today’s hyperactive, ADD post-internet world, that ask is more valuable than your money.
GYBE have always been viewed as a political band, but I don’t feel like Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is a manifesto. It feels more like a statement on how music can be created and appreciated. A recording from a band on their own terms and timeline, from a band that didn’t need to ever enter a studio again. It’s a call to action, but not in terms of polling stations and policy reform. It’s about conviction and staying true to an artistic vision.
Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is two different beasts trapped in the same cage. Two 20-minute sonic explorations (“Mladic” and “We Drift Like Worried Fire”) make up the meat of the LP, but the two equally as enjoyable drone filled songs complete the listen. With all the bands trying to replicate GYBE’s blueprint, it’s easy to forget the Montreal collective shaped this sound, but even after a decade of relative silence the songs and the sound they helped push forward is still fresh and vital. Textures and cycles are added and removed with such a delicate touch, it’s hard to figure out how the band creates such weight. These songs are powerful to the point they consume you.
At times, the record is as dark as a power outage but also provides some of the most trimmed and accessible moments they’ve put to tape. The output is compact; a one inch punch that can break your ribs. And while the tension and swirling chaos still exist, remarkably, both are balanced with optimism and triumph. There are moments on these recordings too beautiful for words, strings that lift and layers that unfold to reveal treasures. Basically, it’s everything I want when I listen to Godspeed.
It’s impossible to review a Godspeed record – the results are so visceral that in depth analysis is contrary to what makes the songs so special – and honestly, this unexpected treat deserves more of a thank you than a critique. As the years add up and sadly, life is more funerals than weddings, I’m thrilled to have another four songs from a band I thought was done.