Review: Allelujlia! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 2012
Requiem for a Dream is a movie I’ve seen twice. The first time I saw it I vowed never to watch it again. And the second time I saw it I vowed never to watch it again. And at least for now, I’ve stuck to my word. But this isn’t like seeing Don’t Mess With the Zohan and vowing never to see it again. Don’t Mess With the Zohan is a terrible movie. It shouldn’t be seen more than once, or even seen at all really. Requiem For a Dream is a different kind of movie. It’s nearly perfect. It has grabbing narrative intensity, is incredibly edited, has great acting, and presents some of the most psychologically twisted things I’ve ever seen on film. And that’s the issue. It’s a phenomenal film but it’s something I watch for neither entertainment nor personal enjoyment; it is too heavy to truly present itself as anything other than art. I walked away from Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new album Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend! with a similar thought: Sometimes art is lacks personal gratification and mirth and instead demands appreciation and consumption.
Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is heavy. I drew the comparison to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For a Dream and nothing can be that harrowing in the realm of music, but none the less there is a weight that comes listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s new album. It starts with the track length. With only four songs on the LP, the album contains two 20-minute long songs and in the age of digital media it can be trying to fully digest the album in one sitting as it’s clearly intended to be. This fact alone would be a deal breaker personally if the songs weren’t so rich in texture and layered with timbre and ambience. Twenty minutes doesn’t exactly fly by, but just as is true with other post-rock instrumental bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai, the time is generally void of repetition and focuses on musical ascension and declination, strengthening and weakening of volume and instrumentation, and creating a distorted atmosphere of fear and incrimination. At one point in “We Drift Like Worried Fire” a stringed alarm sounds off and for moments, it remains alone until a motion of constant cymbals fill the track, followed by an intense lingering guitar line. It is eerie yet beautiful.
Musically the album, just like most post-rock sounds and other Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums, never strays far from a singular defined sound. Here the album likes to focus on its strings section, exploiting their symphonic melodies with bagpipes and tremendously driving drums and crushing crescendos. The album constantly has purpose. For something that intimidates and drones on for what feels like an eternity, it is constantly moving forward at a good pace, and it changes up tempo and orchestration enough to hold 53 minutes nicely. The albums most appealing moment comes in the track “Their Helicopters Sing”. The track opens to those haunting distorted strings before transforming into a lone bagpipe sound among the ever building tonal harmonies in the background. It’s one of the few low-key moments of the album, until it descends into chaos later on.
But like I said in the open, this is a heavy album. I listened to it 3 times in full before writing this review and it was exhausting and daunting every time. I would never put on Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend! for pleasure. It requires personal dedication and endurance or fanboydom to really enjoy the way music is traditionally enjoyed. I would never put this LP on in my car as I drive to the store in the same way I would put on Japandroid’s Celebration Rock from earlier this year. It serves a different purpose. This is an art house record if I’ve ever heard one. Experimental? Perhaps. But artful none the less. And in that light I have to give it a huge recommendation, if for no other reason than you won’t hear anything quite like it in 2012. It demands respect. Give it that. Grade – A-