Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor were a key name in the indie scene when I was hanging out at EMusic around the turn of the millennium, even before they split up in 2003. However, they were always unlike everyone else, even in a genre where the point is often for everyone to be as individual as possible. Certainly, this seemed obvious with this band even before we listened to them, given their name and the title of their debut album, F♯ A♯ ∞, which is a lot easier to quote now than it was in 1997.
This seventh album is just as non-comformist, from the title with its unconventional stylings to a four track line-up that merges pieces together into suites with astoundingly clumsy titles. The opener, for instance, is A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job's Lament / First of the Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (Rockets for Mary). Is that really four tracks? Sure, why not. It's broken up that way on some streaming services, but perhaps because they can get away with charging more for each part separately than all together.
The band wouldn't be OK with that, given that they released this album alongside another list of the sort of political demands they tried on their previous album, Luciferian Towers. This time out, they're asking for the prisons to be emptied, power to be transferred from the police to the neighbourhoods they terrorise, the forever wars to be ended and the rich to be taxed until they're impoverished.
Now, the likelihood of all that happening because of fifty-two minutes of Canadian experimental rock is about as close to zero as can be comfortably imagined, but it's a nice thought and it underlines how music is not merely music to this band. Ahead of the album's release, they livestreamed it in entirety alongside a 16mm projection show, an aspect of their experience that's usually reserved for concerts. They aren't on anything as conventional as social media, so the links section above is pretty minimal, and I don't think they've updated their website since they reformed in 2012.
Much of what they do is minimal and often extended and downbeat. They don't have a particularly fun view of the world and that translates into their music. This album is often like that, but it's sometimes surprisingly upbeat. The second part of the first track, the Job's Lament, bit is quirkily playful. I'm not sure I've heard anything from them that's as perky as Government Came, from about four and a half minutes into its initial eleven. It's loose and jazzy and later parts of the full piece approach a jig feel. Perhaps that's the cliffs' gaze at empty waters' rise part of this conglomeration of a track, whose full title is this: "Government Came" (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz) / Cliffs Gaze / cliffs' gaze at empty waters' rise / Ashes to Sea or Nearer to Thee.
Experimental music often grabs me in part but rarely in full and this fits that description well. There's a long intro to the opening track that I really don't need to hear again, but there are some wonderful pieces of innovation in and amongst the, shall we say, not so accessible parts. Most of it is wildly more accessible to a mainstream public than its stylised title and avant-garde beginning might suggest.
I particularly liked both of the shorter pieces, Fire at Static Valley and Our Side Has to Win (For D.H.), each of which runs about six minutes. These remind me a lot of what Tangerine Dream were doing in the mid to late seventies, but far more organic, especially the latter because of the violins of Sophie Trudeau and what sounds like a cello to me but is probably the upright bass of Thierry Amar. As an old school Tangerine Dream fan, Fire at Static Valley is my favourite here by far.
It's a good world that has a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor in it, even if there's a lot that we collectively still need to fix that this album sadly won't. Sometimes reality sucks and music is what we use to fill the holes.