Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress, the latest Constellation offering from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the second full-length since its much anticipated 2010 reformation, hits all the right notes and is a fine addition to the Montreal collective’s canon, even if, at same deeper level, it grapples with issues early GYBE recordings never had to address.
The record, the group’s shortest to date, is essentially two slabs of rollicking Godspeed, an opener and a closer, separated by two textural drones. The transitions between respective parts work well – the group clearly worked the piece into precision live under the sobriquet “Behemoth,” as the spreading story goes – but the drones, as good as they are, feel like 15 minutes of muted moments between two mountains. That’s a tall order to fill, even at their brightest.
The view from the mountains, as they are, is pretty goddamn majestic, this being Godspeed You! Black Emperor and all. Opener “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’” is more subtle (though not subdued), offering some more unexpected asides, like a skittering (albeit brief) guitar solo and explosive blasts of unified sound. Kudos to the band, also, for jumping right into the proceedings and getting loud pretty fast with “Peasantry” after some off-time drum kicks right at the beginning of things – very nice, indeed. Very little foreplay on this one.
I’ll pass on the first drone, not much tension or electricity and also, on the flip, not much slow burn. The title track, “Asunder, Sweet,” the second drone, climaxes and swells (I like this one far better) into the final track, “Piss Crowns Are Trebled,” which falls somewhere between vintage GYBE and the heaviest GYBE has ever sounded. In any case, for the first few measures, these guys sound pissed, indeed. The 14-minute piece’s highlight? There’s the descendent of “Moya‘” climax, that gem off Slow Riot for Zero Kanada, on this record, starting at the two-minute mark, where ascending and descending guitars weave around strings and buzzsaw bass that grinds through the surface, each playing its own tune. Epic! Epic! Epic! This is the best the band has sounded since reassembling! Now there are those among us who say music this shape shifting and chromatic is generated to shift goods and shift goods alone – I’m looking at you, Pitchfork – and to that short-sighted and jaded thinking I suggest a reading or two on Wagner. Ahem.
So, where have they gone wrong? Well, nowhere really. Solid record. B+/A. But, as much as GYBE gets rocks thrown at its glass house for not changing at more than a glacial pace (or not appearing to change at all), I’m going to be a little counterintuitive. I’m going to be critical because the new record changes too much.
One issue the “new Godspeed” has that the “old Godspeed” didn’t is technology. Say what you will of Skinny Fists or Yanqui but they ultimately were “flawed” documents (follow me now) because the recordings were rough around the edges. You always had a slight feeling they were about to run with you off the rails — and there was something thrilling about that.
That’s gone now.
In a sense, GYBE has never sounded “better,” fidelity-wise. Psychically, speaking, sure, that’s a decision to be made and GYBE has cast the gauntlet here to sound cleaner-cut. For better or worse, that’s their sound now and there is a difference in how it is delivered to your ears, how the guitars screech, how the drums thud, what the crescendos sound like when the speakers shake (or these cases, don’t). There’s a difference. And so it goes. Things change. And so does GYBE.
Are you ready for living “in the belly of this horrible machine” in hi-fi? With Asunder, even moreso than 2012’s Allelujah, Don’t Bend! Ascend!, brother, you’d better be.