In the wake of Godspeedgate, I wanted to add a few thoughts and repost my review of the record. I believe the band had every right to question and challenge the gala, as much as people have the right to challenge GYBE’s statement. That being said, Polaris is based on artistic merit and solely on the songs that are recorded. People seem to be overlooking the fact this record is a monster and how it was packaged and released was a refreshing change from today’s supersaturated, PR driven cycle.
So, a few thoughts I had over the last few days and then, a glowing review of a record that means something to me.
1) They never said they didn’t appreciate the award itself. They actually used the word “humbled” to describe their feelings upon winning. They were opposed to the gala itself and the process of creating Scion branded 7″ to throw around and some of the corporate money being spent. As someone that’s been on stage at the gala twice presenting and debating, I think it’s a fantastic celebration of Canadian music but fully realize it’s ok if that’s not your thing. I can also see how people think it’s a fucking wankfest for musicians and journos (which, it also is).
The gala doesn’t take away from the process of journalists trying to find the record that is the “best” artistic effort of the year, no matter how you want to define it.
2) Why would they withdraw from the award? Tons of celebs take money from awards/photos/events and donate the money to a cause they believe in. If they drop out and lets say, “band x” wins, that money might go to a van, or paying off debt or a cause Godspeed isn’t passionate about (all of these things have happened). They also miss their chance to promote an issue they obviously care deeply about. Not many people want to talk about how prisons fail those we are trying to rehabilitate (to be honest, I’m one of those people) and this opens up a pertinent dialog that probably needs to be surfaced.
3) Who is 100% in their convictions and ethics? I’d wager no one. It’s okay to strive for something and come short. It’s about the attempt to be better. Yes, they are going on tour with NIN and playing huge shows in arenas branded by banks and car companies. They’ve also spent years avoiding popularity, existing on a co-op label and removing themselves from the spotlight. They focus on building their local scene, owning and developing venues in MTL, working on causes they are passionate about and basically, letting the music speak for itself. As someone who gets a million emails from bands claiming greatness and hoping a PR campaign can transform average songs into greatness, knowing Godspeed will never send me an email and their label head only sends me records if I actually want to take the time to ask him is pretty refreshing in my books.
Are they perfect? Of course not, but they are trying to stand for something. Whether or not you agree with their actions, it matters little, just like if they live up to their intent completely.
4) Music is a struggle for almost everyone that tries to make a job out of it. Godspeed has obviously done well enough to exist as musicians so they have nothing to complain about (and it’s not a bad thing to get government funding), but at the same time, it’s ok to not want to be involved in a gala with woman in Scion mini-dresses walking around.
5) Most importantly, the record is a monster. That seems to be forgotten in all of this. Four songs that just assault your ears and are not conducive to distracted listens. The double LP makes you get up and flip the record or change the record after every song. This was #3 on my ballot, and since the first two didn’t make the short list, I’m actually happy with the verdict and the debate that ensued. It’s not their best record, but I am fully supportive of this being deemed a high water mark for Canadian music.
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.