Political statement as freedom: Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Since the 2012 release of Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend, Efrim Menuck has come out as an anarchist, which is a little like Liberace finally telling everyone he’s gay. It was fitting that Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! timed its much anticipated release with the Occupy Wall Street movement, as the first recorded statement the band had made since 2002. The album was pure historical transition, bringing together GY!BE past and present into a typically profound and circuitous orgy of awareness of all that GY!BE is. It turns out that in the otherworld where karma and the gods rule, time means nothing and Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! was able to close the ten year gap with a timeless comment that consistency can exist when unfashionable integrity and a deep throbbing passion are allowed to reign supreme. It’s all very much tied in with Menuck’s political position and a radical commitment to music as its own product. GY!BE is a consumerist free zone, inviting you to be swept away by the pure intensity of sound – and that’s it.

Now we’ve been gifted Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, which – as with all GY!BE records – feels like it fell from heaven into our hands. Anarchy is primarily about the people’s right to self govern, and what underlies the pulsing enormity of any GY!BE album is the invitation extended to the listener to make what they will of what they are hearing. Each one of their albums is an expression of freedom that, in its uncompromised audacity, presents as its own invitation to the freedom of the listener. You can’t just hear Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress. You have to allow it to get into you, to involve you in a psychic listening game that involves answering its enormity with your own.

A bold claim like the one I make above necessitates explanation if for no other reason than to just prove I’m not a nutter. But the first point of awareness lies with understanding GY!BE sound like no other band, and that with every introductory march, and we have it again at the start of the album here with “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light’” imposes a separation between the listening experience and a tactile or otherwise sensory awareness of the world around you. It’s at the half way between the third and fourth minute of “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light’” that you start to realise you’ve been directly marched into GY!BE country and as the lilting Celtic sounds trill in over and above the droning weight of the march, you know you’re being offered something you didn’t expect, and that this anthemic passion is yours to take up – if you dare to let your shit go for at least the length of the album.

And by that point, it’s all over. As Neil Diamond would say, once they know they have you, then they really have you. The mighty track tricks you into softness only to spit you out through a wall-of-guitars birth canal that feels as slippery as it does escapist. When the drones take precedence again at around eight minutes, they’re swathed in melody and welcome you into an experience that insists on nothing other than the horrible, enormous, glorious present. There’s no pause as the writhing chant of “Lambs’ Breath” gets underway, deeper and darker and more like the GY!BE albums of old, dragging you into their world. The ambient sounds have no field recordings, unlike previous albums, and instead they drift listening back and forth through a whirlpool of vibrating and ricocheting sound. Part of the subversive contradiction of Asunder, Sweet and other Distress is the album’s length – only 40 minutes – and its perverse insistence that you listen to the entire thing in one sitting as each track bleeds hypnotically into the next. There’s no coming up for air in “Asunder, Sweet”, the next track that is all underwater drone until it drags your ass above the surface (or further beneath) as it writhes to a teeming crescendo of choral proportions.

All this, everything prior, is setting the listener up for “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”. GY!BE have called their music “gods pee” and positioned against the anarchist aesthetic, the hesitant yet relentlessness of the drive toward a pure beauty truly begins is manifestation just after the two minute mark in “Piss Crowns Are Trebled”. The entire album works toward this tumultuous moment, as the determined sound lifts and explodes around those who give themselves over to the freedom offered. It’s a political statement – it’s always a political statement, as listening is a political act – and GY!BE know they are offering you an enormity that you have agreed to take up, if only for forty minutes, so the celebration of unity throbs through every pulse of “Piss Crowns”. It still can’t be called cheerful music, but it is revolutionary and it is an appeal to your freedom, to your democratic listening choice. Unapologetically it assumes it has your partnership and takes you to the mountain top, if only for thirteen minutes and fifty seconds, so you can stand with GY!BE and see what is possible.

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