Monday, September 25, 2017

Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers Review

There's something to be said about the unsaid nature of politics in Post-Rock. Typically a genre ripe with emotion, none told verbally, since the 1990's Post-Rock has concentrated its efforts on the consequences of human hardship. Whether it's the apocalypse as a result of our tempermental masculinity, a revolution thanks to financial inequality, or just the day-to-day pain and suffering those living under a controlling regime endure, Post-Rock almost always concerns itself with the people and not the system. The question then becomes; how effective are their efforts? Does the art merely describe and not deter? For that we look to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the most prominent of Post-Rock outfits. Faceless musicians with strong progressive ideals, something that shows through the emotion of their latest offering Luciferian Towers, but more decidedly through the album's press release. Littered with expletives, exclamations, and doomsday dialogue, the prognostication for their sixth LP threatens the bureaucracy with demands like "an end to borders," "the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex," and "the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again." For a band that never speaks over their music, they sure have a lot to say. However, on the surface, Luciferian Towers accomplishes much of what their past records achieved without adding anything new.

When I first traversed the Post-Rock world, GY!BE drew me in with their highly-ambitious and highly-creative Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. It sounded nothing like anything released before or since, surviving a dystopian future on an alien Earth with infrequent time capsules acting as the sole peeks into the past. They released one more record in 2002, Yanqui U.X.O., before handing Post-Rock off to a trove of failed imitators, ones that replicated the aggression whilst setting aside the heart, passion, and ingenuity. Upon returning with 2012's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! and especially 2015's 'Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress,' the group known for pushing boundaries, inverting the formula, and creating their own lane began to fall in line. It's there that their vainglorious behavior in press releases, or during live shows from time to time, revealed itself to be nothing more than a flashy marketing tactic to draw in their anti-establishment fans. The music within, including the instrumentation, structure, and emotion, mirrored the now-obvious Post-Rock redundancies. In this sense, Luciferian Towers is no different. Four tracks, two separated into three passages likely for streaming purposes, lacking peculiar identities, charting the rise, fall, and destruction of formal institutions.

Looking past that obvious detractor, the fact that Luciferian Towers doesn't intend on standing out, a focus on the music paints a more positive picture. This, in comparison to the disappointing Asunder record, one that matched riveting anthems (namely the sensational 'Peasantry Or 'Light! Inside Of Light!'') with aimless droning passages. For the most part, Luciferian Towers ditches the lulls and embraces the upheaval. In our post-Trump America, this response seems apt. Unlike Asunder, or even Allelujah, the periodic passages of seclusion act as a christening for the coming chaos, and not a dead end with no real payoff. You can see this in the sequencing, as the transitory moments of tranquility, like 'Bosses Hang Pt. I' or 'Anthem For No State, Pt. I,' emerge in anticipation of something more foreboding. This draws comparisons to GY!BE's career-defining compositions, like 'Monheim,' 'Moya,' or the immaculate 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists,' in that a steady build occurs to increase momentum and intensity. Every track, including the ephemeral 'Fam / Famine' which acts as a continuation from 'Undoing A Luciferian Towers' because of the repeated, beaming melody, builds in stature and ubiquity. A Post-Rock cliché yes, but still better than multiple, inconsequential drones.

From this perspective, Luciferian Towers is GY!BE's most pressing and imperative work in over a decade. Always aware of the world around them, GY!BE sees 2017 for what it is; fast, reckless, and a dispiriting sign of things to come. Unlike the vast majority of their discography, which merely presents a world in which humans never learn from their mistakes, Luciferian Towers aims to be revisionary, or more fittingly, reactionary. Being that they never speak, analyzing the titles has always been important. Two in particular, 'Bosses Hang' and 'Anthem For No State,' seem to imply that those under the watchful eyes of "cancer maps, drone strike[s], and famine" (as stated in their press release) have revolted. Like much of their ambiguous Post-Rock, the tone presented here is suitable for the revolution against the system. The trio of 'Bosses Hang,' Luciferian Towers' best work, a shining example of this. In 'Pt. I,' a quiet, foggy morning stirs with anticipation, as a feedback-heavy guitar unifies the populace. Then, with more oil lighting the fire, 'Pt. II' begins the anarchy as an insurmountable force of people subvert decades-long institutions. Finally, 'Pt. III,' with the entire GY!BE roster in tow, pummels along the assembly line of executives waiting to be executed by the well-oiled machine.

None of that's remotely accurate to how the band describes 'Bosses Hang,' but that's the value of interpretive art. And if we're to continue my illusionary metaphor, the grand finale of 'Anthem For No State' finds us living a fortnight into the future, as parts one and two gather around a campfire for tall tales of the not-so distant past, while 'Pt. III' swings, sails, and swoons in celebration of a job well done. With no context though, 'Pt. I' and 'Pt. II's' sequestered solitude could be seen as forlorn failure, 'Pt. III's' uproarious conduct painful defeat. Point being, GY!BE's formula is just as present here as past records, despite the titles offering a new mindset. Take that for what you will. That's because, no matter how anthemic, how engrossing, how powerful Luciferian Towers can be, nothing here is new or refreshing when taking into consideration the group's prolific past. At this stage in their career, it's hard to see their style and performance as anything but pandering. Luckily for them, 2017 sucks. Post-Rock feels more relevant than ever, especially compared to the 90's when things weren't as hostile or antithetical. On Luciferian Towers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor still struggles to redefine their ritual, despite unleashing a compelling project thanks to being in the right place at the right time.

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