I believe it was the great Neil Young who sang “…only Swans can break your arm” back in the dim and distant mists of musical history, and up until now he’s been right. No band other than Michael Gira‘s monolithic spacegod-baiting machine has ever had the capacity to damage limbs simply through sheer heftiness. But all that’s changed now with the arrival of the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, and in particular its opening (and topically-titled) track “Mladic.”Starting with a cacophony of bells, strings and unidentifiable (by me at least) high-end stuff, it quickly settles into a relentlessly chiming groove, which practically screams “we haven’t even started yet, motherfuckers” at you. When the drums and bass (but not like that) join in the whole thing ramps up several notches, and then you’re all like “is this the tune now?” – and it nearly is, except it’s then scythed apart by distorted guitar and a riff that sounds like some sort of Middle-Eastern garage rock. It’s quite simply immense. By the time the beat proper kicks in you realise you’ve already decided this is one of the best things you’ll hear all year. And that’s before Godspeed finally admit that all along they’ve secretly wanted to be The Stooges. And then they do that GY!BE thing of bringing all the elements back in at once.
By the time you’re halfway through you feel like you’ve got that deceptively simple riff tattooed on the inside of your brain, and you want to show it off to everyone. When it finally slows down you’re kind of glad of the rest, which is handy, because then it gets all epic and transcendental, so it’s like you’ve got an awesome view to stare at while you’re putting your brain back together. It’s intense, and the only thing I’ve heard this side of Neurosis that I could even imagine challenging Gira to a noise fight. Possibly the best thing they’ve recorded since “Moya” on A Slow Riot For A New Zero Kanada.The thing I love about Godspeed is that they have all these different elements to their music, but they rarely combine them in the same way twice. They’re a proper band in that sense – each instrument comes to the fore as and when needed, so they all work at their best together. There’s no “ooh, we have to have an epic guitar bit here because we haven’t had one for a while and the guitar’s feeling a bit left out” – it’s all “we have to have an epic guitar bit here because that’s what’s gonna sound the most awesome”.
After an opening like that, you’d expect the rest of the album to be something of a disappointment, but I rather suspect Godspeed don’t even understand the concept of disappointment. Of course, the other key thing about Godspeed is their way with words, and titles which are by turns infuriatingly oblique and wonderfully evocative. “Their Helicopters Sing” is the next, followed by “We Drift Like Worried Fire.” “Their Helicopters Sing” is all drones, arpeggiated strings and skirl. Imagine a cross between the soundtracks to Mulholland Drive and Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Only maybe not quite like that.“We Drift Like Worried Fire” is another massive beast of a track, though less brutal this time. It’s still pretty unforgiving, with the drums taking a real battering, military-style, while the melody floats above your head, dropping rocks on you from a safe distance like a huge iron butterfly (note the lack of capitals- it’s not like Iron Butterfly at all, except maybe in terms of epicness) with a grudge, before turning into a sort of krautrock My Bloody Valentine with violin. The closer, “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable,” is another mood piece, coming off like a less grumpy SunnO))), or a beatless Third Eye Foundation. It’s a bit like lying on a stone beach while waves of iron filings wash over you, only probably less scratchy. And a bit warmer.
So yeah. They’re properly back. Doing the awesome albums and everything. Long may they continue to confound and amaze.
-Deuteronemu 902!10 Can Do That Weird Punctuation Thing As Well-