Godspeed You! Black Emperor makes wordless music that nevertheless shouts like a street-corner prophet. We use images — politically-charged ones, in particular — to describe GY!BE because its bleak drones, string-sawed dirges and guitar noise convey long-gestating dread, apocalyptic nightmares and a rare light of hope between the cracks.
We map our meaning onto GY!BE because, for the past two decades and counting, the Montreal-based collective has reflected and refracted dire circumstances in music that is at once beautiful and confrontational. For that, we call GY!BE political.
"What's political music? All music is political, right?" the band told The Guardian in 2012. "You either make music that pleases the king and his court, or you make music for the serfs outside the walls. It's what music (and culture) is for, right? To distract or confront, or both at the same time? So many of us know already that s*** is f*****."
Our definition of political music has become a polemic the size of a blast crater, leaving no room for nuance in an extremely either/or climate. But like that exasperated response, GY!BE doesn't exist in the center of either/or — it marches on and makes damn sure it's not "just pretty noise saddled to whatever horse comes along."
It's not like the band doesn't invite the conversation. Like all GY!BE albums, Luciferian Towers is accompanied by revolutionary rhetoric, perhaps its most explicit, saying that the forthcoming album is "informed by the following grand demands: an end to foreign invasions; an end to borders; the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex; healthcare, housing, food and water acknowledged as an inalienable human right; the expert f*****s who broke this world never get to speak again."
Played like a folkloric funeral march set in the ashes of dusk, "Undoing A Luciferian Towers" is what GY!BE does best, with an ever-mounting string-driven drone that shifts chord progressions like black clouds. Synths, a new texture for the collective, move across the firmament with a smear. But about four minutes into the dirge, the band is joined by its first outside collaborators since 2002's Yanqui U.X.O.: Craig Pederson (trumpet) and Bonnie Kane (flute, saxophone, electronics) give "Undoing A Luciferian Towers" an inverted fanfare, pushing against the swollen arrangement with fluttering chaos.
Luciferian Towers comes out Sept. 22 via Constellation.