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

Released 3/31/15

Grade: 5/7

Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor have returned with their sixth studio LP and their first album of new material since reuniting back in 2010.  Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress doesn’t mark a huge departure from the band’s acclaimed sound, but it doesn’t need to.  A new Godspeed record is always an event, and this one stands as another consistently great album in what’s arguably the most impressive discography in post-rock.

If anything can be said for Asunder, it’s that it’s definitely Godspeed’s most concise full-length.  Clocking in at a mere forty minutes and featuring what is essentially one song divided into four movements, Asunder doesn’t even run across two slabs of vinyl.  This ends up working to the album’s favor.  As much this reviewer loves his copy of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, he’s still never found the time to sit down and properly listen to the damn thing front-to-back.  Asunder, with its four movements, two typical post-rock mini-symphonies separated by two drone pieces, proves a more digestible listen.

But what of these four songs, you might ask? The song titles, typical Godspeed word salad, won’t tell you much.  Opener “Peasantry, or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’” kicks the record off with slow, Eastern-tinged strings that glide and swirl around a lumbering rhythm section.  Eventually the song dissolves into the album’s two droners, “Lambs’ Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet” which when listened to while screwing around on the computer come off as slightly underwhelming, but, when listened to heroically stoned are probably labyrinthine and deep and speak to the collapse of Western society or something.  Not that I would know.

Closer “Piss Crowns Are Trebled” rises out of the hum with a wash of major chords. Minutes later the string section kick back in, then so does that buzzsaw guitar that everyone loved on “She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field,” and before you know it Godspeed are serving up a classic slab of crescendocore.  Everything gets really loud before collapsing in on itself and the record ends on a surprisingly hopeful note.  This too is kind of surprising, considering the band began its mythical career by regaling us with stories of burning cities and wallets full of blood.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress doesn’t innovate. To be fair, though, post-rock hasn’t evolved a whole lot since the 90s, and Godspeed has already given us two or three absolute classics.  Asking for another seems unreasonable.  Instead, this record follows the trend that most of 2015’s blockbuster guitar albums have established.  This is Godspeed, a master class indie rock band if there ever was one, slipping into a comfortable middle age.  That it’s doing so with such a solid, Godspeed-to-its-core record is cause for celebration.