A hopeful devastation
“The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel.” More than a quarter century ago, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the legendary post-rock band from Canada, beamed these prophetic words into people’s ears. The track went on to speak of a world at the end of days. With the release of G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, the conclusion has been reached, people no longer wait for the times. They are no longer dripped intravenously into our eardrums by a gravel-voiced man, they appear in front of us, in the visions of war across the ocean, in the visions of bodies in the streets, in the pulsating red eyes of teargassed protesters, in the cheerful smiles of acquitted murderers, corrupt politicians and world-consuming billionaires. The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel—“these are truly the last days.”
Throughout the course of their career, Godspeed You! Black Emperor (hereafter referred to as GY!BE) has built a foundation on the dour. When most post-rock was brilliant, quiet pieces of texture, GY!BE explored the moody darkness of people’s rapidly dissolving civilizations. When most post-rock turned to massive crescendos and distorted guitars, GY!BE turned to bagpipes and the quiet contemplation of atrocities. Part of what differentiates G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END! from the majority of their work to date is the message of hope. In the tones and the silences of both interlude tracks, “Fire at Static Valley” and “OUR SIDE HAS TO WIN (for D.H.),” there is hope, however desperate. People can feel the old ways falling off their bodies like dead skin, the governments and their corrupt officers melting under the heat of a nuclear sun. These are the sounds of a deadly baptism, the sounds of crawling out from the bomb shelter, the sounds of quiet footsteps shuffling into the street, shuffling to see who was stolen by the angel of death.
Outside of those tracks, the message is more palpable, more violent and more chaotic. “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)” sees the world fall apart. Listeners hear the rupture of the ice caps, the chatter of paramilitary groups and militias as they mobilize their final assaults and defenses. But in the end, as the rockets rip out of the ground, flying to unknown destinations where they will turn flesh to liquid, people are met with a sound of hope. It dares to ask, if the world came from ash, could it be rebuilt from ash once again? Yes, it answers, people could build it better.
The final major track of the record ““Government Came” (9980.0kHz 3617.1kHz 4521.0 kHz)/Cliffs Gaze/cliffs’ gaze at empty waters’ rise/Ashes to Sea or Near to Thee” is, at times, the quietest track ever composed by this group. Its movements are unpredictable, thieflike. Before one knows it, GY!BE is upon them and one is met with the roar of the ocean. Guitars rattle like waves as amplifiers distort the wind and sea into something freshly reborn. It paints a picture from the cliffside: the grey skies are parting and the first glimpses of sunlight pierce into one’s pupils. It is a poetic song, one that begs the listener to understand while telling them nothing. It is a perfect song, and it is the beginning of something new and bright.
The fact that a GY!BE record could sound hopeful is a shocking revelation. That the new sound fits is hardly a surprise. Nearly a quarter century ago, they heralded the end of days. They compressed that time into a paranoid delusion that spoke to the anxious times. Today, they dictate the apocalypse, of state’s end and they paint a vision of the future. A future full of ash but shining brighter than the unended world ever could. This finality is intentional, and it is put better by the members of GY!BE than anyone else could ever hope to put it. “This record is about all of us waiting for the end. All current forms of governance are failed. This record is about all of us waiting for the beginning, and is informed by the following demands—empty the prisons, take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise. End the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism. Tax the rich until they’re impoverished. Much love to all the other lost and lovely ones, these are death-times and our side has to win.”