Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM


Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress | Godspeed You! Black Emperor


Patience is not a trait commonly associated with listening to music. The bluntness of four-chord pop songs and shredded guitar licks are certainly popular, but they appeal to the consumer’s need for instant gratification. For some, songs that extend past the five-minute mark are too long to keep his or her interest. Yet, some of the most acclaimed musical groups specialize in opuses that flirt with double-digit lengths and obscure genres. For better or worse, highly influential bands like Sunn O))) and Swans are labeled as pretentious for their seemingly indigestible compositions. But, that is where patience is important.[su_pullquote align=”right”]“One band that understands what it means to be patient is Canada’s post-rock pioneers,Godspeed You! Black Emperor.”[/su_pullquote]

Patience is what got Death Grips fans through eight months of waiting for Jenny Death, and patience is going to get Kendrick Lamar’s devoted fan base through the long wait until a successor to To Pimp a Butterfly is released. One band that understands what it means to be patient is Canada’s post-rock pioneers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor. With a name as complex as their music, GY!BE returned from a 12-year hiatus to releasing the well-received Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! in 2012. Now, with a much quicker turnaround than a decade, the Quebec-based band dropped their fifth studio album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress on March 31, 2015.

Asunder, Sweet slowly begins with the track “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!”, a 10-minute tangled web of instrumental chaos. Loud guitar chords intermingle with massive crash cymbals and plodding drums, as attention-seeking brass and string accompaniments blare in the distance. The casual listener may not notice, but any devoted GY!BE fan will undoubtedly hear how different the opening track sounds compared to most of the band’s past work: Godspeed’s usual post-rock delivery has been altered to straight up drone rock.

An acquired taste, drone music features extended instrumental suites, with repetitious musical phrases consisting of few notes or chords. These phrases vary in their composition: some drone music slams the listener with enormously heavy and distorted electric guitar, and other pieces compose dreamy layers of soft and bassy electronic beats. Long song lengths are ubiquitous in drone music, so 30-minute songs consisting of three guitar notes may polarize some listeners; however, if one approaches the music with an open mind, the genre can expand one’s conception of what it means to have their mind blown by music.

[su_pullquote]“Each song on Asunder, Sweet effortlessly blends into the next, making it seem like the album is simply one very long composition.”[/su_pullquote]GY!BE’s latest output embraces this drone aesthetic by playing the same melody over and over, occasionally changing the pattern. This adds to their renown as post-rock giants, as the slight changes encourage the entire composition to build, eventually amassing a wonderfully dystopian and visceral ball of madness. The opening track sounds similar to GY!BE’s drone-contemporary Earth, especially the Washington-band’s late 2000s EP Hibernaculum: an essence of endless deserts and sand dunes emanates from “Peasantry, or “Light! Inside of Light!”. Listen for yourself.

Each song on Asunder, Sweet effortlessly blends into the next, making it seem like the album is simply one very long composition. The second track, “Lambs’ Breath”, has GY!BE taking the tone into ambient realms, piecing together noisy sonic fragments of microphone feedback, crunchy amplifier tones, and strings. “Lambs’ Breath” is the quietly raging yin to the eponymous next track “Asunder, Sweet”’s yang, where a combined 16 minutes of droning noise strengthens in musical voracity. Organs and violin join the gurgling ambience, rebuilding the fallen symphony into something more raucous and dense. It sounds as if chambers of string-playing apparitions from the 16th century have shaken back to life and play their ghostly dirge one last time before shuffling loose their mortal coil once more.

The life of the previous three tracks is restored in the closing piece, “Piss Crowns are Trebled”, a return to Godspeed’s grandiose form. Rock-inspired drums carry tone-clusters of juxtaposed grimy guitar and victorious violins, seeking shape as they swirl in their incomplete forms. As the action rises, the pitch drops the distortion, signaling a new direction for the instruments to ascend. This noticeable change in tone must be intentional, and it is quite moving, as the subsequent array of flourishing strings and lead guitar notes erupt into a beautiful crescendo. “Piss Crowns are Trebled” is the longest track on the album, and every aural moment is a wonderful block on which the next movement is erected. As the song reaches its climax, the instruments begin to fall apart piece by piece until they are washed away and nothing is left behind.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is known for writing difficult and challenging music, and Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is no exception. The album absolutely must be absorbed as a whole, which is somewhat demanding of the listener. There are moments where little is expressed except for sustained notes and cacophonous noise, and upon first listen, the album seems to drag. Yet, the tenacious listener is rewarded greatly by coming back to the record and indulging in GY!BE’s brilliant approach to modern classical.

Patience is not only a virtue, but a prerequisite. Bring some nice headphones and an appetite for wonder, and you will be pleasantly satisfied.

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