Review: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Writing a review for a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album can be an exercise in futility.  If you have time to kill and want to have some fun, be sure to peruse some of the awkward attempts to describe to the untrained ear what one should expect to hear on a GY!BE album.  It is a challenging task to convey into words the kind of music that Godspeed creates, as their songs buck traditional styles and structures; complicating matters is the nearly-wordless nature of their work, which leaves most reviewers out to sea without the benefit of the potential life preserver of lyrics to help guide a review.  An added difficulty for reviewers is the problem of distinguishing the band’s current work from its previous output, since Godspeed more or less relies on the same tools for each of their albums.   The result is that many reviewers find themselves out of their element, often using technical musical terms incorrectly and employing flowery language in an overwrought manner in an attempt to impart on the listener their emotional response to the album, but reveal very little about the actual music.

The point is not to disparage the attempts of others, but to point out the particular predicament that arises when attempting to review a Godspeed album.  The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to keep the analysis simple, and to cite easy-to-grasp concrete examples.  Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s most accessible album, with its shorter length and more easily identifiable melodies, which makes it the perfect entry point for anyone interested in the band.  After repeated listens, it may also be my favorite.

For the most part, one can consider the track listing on Asunder as a mere suggestion–four tracks are listed, but the album is constructed as more of a three movement suite.  The middle pair of songs (“Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet”) can collapse into one, as a few minutes of respite to allow the listener a chance to breathe between the two epic bookends; both play around with different kinds of distorted feedback, with the first acting as a gradual extended breakdown of the opener and the second as a slow build that serves as an intro to the closer.  Even that characterization may be imposing too much of a structure on the album, since the songs were initially conceived as a single piece that was appropriately named “Behemoth”.

The highlights of Asunder are its two epics, the opener “Peasantry or ‘Light Inside of Light!'” and the closer “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”, and both show Godspeed at their most triumphant.  In an unusual maneuver for the band, “Peasantry” immediately asserts itself with a bombastic beat and a monstrous, lumbering guitar riff.  Over the course of ten minutes, this riff gradually inverts itself into a more expressive Middle Eastern motif, but without any of the intensity subsiding.  The drums play an indispensable role on the album, more so than on any previous Godspeed record in the past.  On “Peasantry” they are a vigorous, robust force that pierces through with precise accents, while on “Piss Crowns” they show off an impressive array of subtle rhythmic tricks (listen to the oddly placed hits and ghost notes at the beginning of the track) and dazzle with expertly placed fills.

Asunder shows Godspeed at their most conventional, but it is also shows them at their most impressive.  Try not to get caught up in the emotional buildup of “Piss Crowns”, as the band unleashes possibly their most triumphant riff in their history, and marvel at how they play around with a relatively simple melody in different ways that augments both its symphonic and rock aspects.  It makes for an engrossing album that begs for heavy rotation (and the loudest speakers that you can find).


Over the Weekend (Jan. 12 Edition)

Videos, live performances, lists, and general news as we determine the superior “O” state once and for all…

We left a ton of material on the table for today’s post, and with the flurry of news this morning our roundup is even more overstuffed than usual.  So let’s dive right in with the surprise release of the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Too Many Rappers”, featuring Nas in both audio and visual form.  While it’s sad to remember that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will be the last album we ever hear from the Beasties, but it’s certainly great to have some more footage of the crew having fun together.

NPR has streams for two highly-anticipated new albums available this week.  First, there’s the long-awaited return of critical darlings and Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney, who are releasing their first album in ten years next week with No Cities to Love.  Then there’s the self-titled debut of Viet Cong, who have garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz among various indie blogs in the past couple of months.  I don’t yet have the same enthusiasm, though it may take a few more listens of their noisy guitar rock to convince me.

Ghostface Killah seemingly never stops working, because after releasing his solo album 36 Seasons last month (and appearing on The Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow), he’s set to release another album next month.  This time it’s a collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, with their record Sour Soul set to be released February 17.  Their latest track, “Ray Gun”, features a guest spot from DOOM and has a nice grimy funk feel, complemented by some gorgeous strings.  Stereogum has more information, including links to previously released tracks, for your perusal.

There’s also a trio of album releases that were announced this morning.  Death Cab For Cutie is releasing Kintsugi on March 31st and will be their first album “without” founding guitarist Chris Walla, who while no longer a member of the band still has a presence on the album.  Sufjan Stevens is releasing Carrie & Lowell on the same day, which we can take as further proof that the “50 States” project is dead.  And Waxahatchee will be releasing Ivy Tripp on April 7th, and you should probably click the link because Pitchfork has helpfully included the new track “Air”.  We were big fans of her previous album Cerulean Salt, and while this sounds a bit more polished than that lo-fi classic, sounding like a stripped-down Joy Formidable is something we can support.

It’s disappointing that a once-vibrant genre as Country has become just a bunch of homogenized pablum, and worse yet is the fact that every year it continues to get worse.  The genre has just  become Nickelback with a half-assed over-enunciated Southern accent, and that’s a damn shame.  The thing is, consumers are at least partly to blame, since as The Atlantic points out, uniformity is what sells.

Last week featured some great musical guests on the Late Night shows, including performances from such RIJR favorites The War On Drugs (who performed the epic “An Ocean In Between The Waves” on The Tonight Show) and Parquet Courts delivering a dynamite version of “Bodies Made of” on Letterman, a song that initially sounds like a poor choice for the national stage until it gets to its epic breakdown.  But the standout of the week was Foxygen and Star Power performing “How Can You Really” on The Late Show, which prompted an enthusiastic response from Dave himself.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are always down for hearing more from Spoon, so we are pleased to share their appearance on Austin City Limits over the weekend as well as their guest spot on Sound Opinions.  We’ll see if we can go the rest of the week without mentioning them, but don’t bet on it.

And finally, a couple of fun lists that can either be used as a discovery tool or merely as argument fodder.  Stereogum has a list of “30 Essential Post-Rock” songs which along with usual suspects Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky includes several other bands that may not be as well known, though this may partially be due to a broad definition of “post-rock”.  You can have an argument about that specific topic as well as the following list from Complex, which goes through each year since 1979 to anoint “The Best Rapper Alive”.