Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet, & Other Distress Review

There was a time when Post-Rock was fresh, exciting, and rejuvenating. That time has unfortunately long since past, the days of Lift Yr Skinny Fists and it's revitalization in not just instrumental set pieces, but music as a whole, has faded into generic soundscapes mimicked by a litany of bands looking to profit off that easily digested shtick. The early releases that found the genre in its peak witnessed an emotive life sparking into them, before a grueling death slowly wound them down. It was this death sound, apocalyptic in nature, that drew bands in without acknowledging the essential life needed to be present. Godspeed You! Black Emperor were the fore bearers, capable of constructing a Post-Rock masterpiece that sounded nothing like anything released at the turn of the century, 15 years later no one, including themselves, have yet been able to top it. With their sudden appearance in 2012 with Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! that spark started to flicker, at the very least in the promising return of the enigmatic band. The group saw what their genre had become and aimed to one-up it with the same unnerving mortality, flourishing in their product but substandard in its forward-thinking. But where Post-Rock had come to flounder, in the lifeless, sheepish herd of releases, their follow-up, Asunder, Sweet, and Other Distress, has done the same. 

For many genres staunch in their deliberate approach mundanity is expected. Take Hip-Hop, where, for a large majority of artists, whatever is currently thriving is what they'll flock to in hopes of getting noticed. To not seem outcasted, this is done with every genre, with the true pioneers being the ones pushing the boundaries. The difference with Post-Rock though is that they were the ones pushing it, making their transparent complacency even more frustrating. Nearly every release of the 2000's followed a structured format of longing soundscapes intent on instilling dread. This focus emphasized a true lack of innovation and skill as each album aimed at one-upping the length of the dust-filled, tumbleweeds of the apocalyptic lack of sound. Entirely ambient and atmospheric in nature these instrumental pieces often times forgo music all together apart from some strenuously drawn out guitar riffs. Godspeed's opus, Lift Yr Skinny Fists, showed departure in that it was filled with life. Vocal samples flickered in like ghosts from the past, entire orchestras would arrive to thrill seek an earth-shattering reveal, and lulls were done strictly to segue these corresponding highs. Asunder features none of this, reveling in its self-satisfaction rather than choosing to escape the chains imposed by others. 

What makes Industrial Post-Rock hard to review critically is that, even when lacking in anthemic taunts capturing the imagination, the moody soundscapes, set as the background to ones daily life, is more often than not enjoyable and satisfactory. But when primarily focused upon the lackluster stitching in the fabric begins to show. What makes Asunder so sonically unappealing is its structure, choosing to emphasize a strong opening and closing, forgoing any tension, abrasion, or appeal in the middle. For any album, by default, you've already captured the listener by them simply putting it on, what matters most is maintaining that interest. And by the time 'Lambs' Breath' begins it's slow descent the intrigue is lost. No voices, no strings, nothing but a drudging riff meandering along for 10 minutes like the lost soundtrack to The Book Of Eli, the sounds encompassing a world untethered by humanity. The problem remains, without humanities touch nothing seems stimulating, the destruction of civilization just isn't sonically pleasing the n-th go around. As one would expect from an apocalyptic world in which they somehow felt safe, nothing going through your ears would see them perk up. What would though? A violin? Radio static? A voice?

While human contact is missing in Asunder, some human achievements still progress onwards, captured intently on the opener 'Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light!' It's the best track here, and while no where near Skinny Fists' breathtaking opening, it provides a successful discourse in sonic distress with a purpose. The lulls of Asunder feel despondent while the raring guitar melodies, crashing drum progressions and revolutionizing string sections of the track spark with a fervor of life. It's an interesting paradoxic because it foretells the coming armageddon with beauty rather than angst, like humanities last rallying cry sharing in hands knowing death is looming. This though makes the following third of the album a lifeless shell, a barren wasteland with nothing notable for the ears to pick out. Moving away from the sonic underbelly and back onto the surface, one can't help but see the striking parallels to Allelujah!, with Asunder working as the B-side, neatly retrofitted to condense into a 40 minute work. The true lack of motivation is Asunder's real killer as Godspeed's clear obedience derails the potential for another riveting experience. While not as absurd a degradation, I relate Godspeed's status of content with Modest Mouse's similar fall, a band engrained in revolting against the norms only to conform to them. 

While expecting another masterpiece was simple wish fulfillment one can't help but to see the clear exclusion of quality. Their stunning orchestra, filled with all of humanities greatest instrumental accomplishments, doesn't just up and leave. The samples of eery spoken word call to arms don't vanish from the history books. If the lengthened lows of Asunder were equipped with these visions from the past the album would become far more attractive, providing a three-dimensional palate to work on rather than the pitiful one-dimensional landscape Godspeed created for themselves. Tact onto this the ample reflections it has with Allelujah! and you're left with a record that feels empty, withering away on a dusty computer before the group felt it was time to release it. Nothing, apart from the rampant opening build-up, feels adventurous or even exciting, as the middling tracks simply act as a gateway from point A to point B. And yet, when all is said and done, the lane Post-Rock drove for itself rewards minimal behavioral changes as its soundtrack-esque ways of living ornate one's own cognitive indifference to prosper off a background template for our own plodding demise.

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