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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O. CD (album) cover


Godspeed You! Black Emperor


Post Rock/Math rock

3.97 | 292 ratings

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4 stars These guys had really managed to renew my hope and faith in the future of progressive music with their debut F# A# ∞, specifically because ofits originality, passion, and the fascinating field-recorded spoken words. The Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP was just as appealing, this one for the hilariously pitiful and bizarre tale of “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III”, and for the absolutely stunning beauty of “Moya”. By the time “Lift Your Skinny Fists…” came along I was glad to hear four extended tracks along the lines of my first love – “Providence”, slightly more polished but exquisitely arranged and orchestrated. But I was wondering if the sound would begin to wear at some point, maybe not then, but eventually. Other offshoots like A Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire to Flames were introducing subtle nuances to their music that just weren’t obvious in “Lift …”, and frankly I was beginning to think I was growing bored with Godspeed. The bloom was beginning to fade on the lilly, in other words.

And when Yanqui U.X.O. released, I sensed this even more. The first couple of times I listened to this album – nothing. Not that it was bad, but I kept finding myself comparing certain sounds, passages, or transitions to something I had heard before, usually either in “Lift…” or on the Set Fire to Flames album. It just seemed like Godspeed had played itself out. But by the forth listen or so it began to dawn on me that there were some subtle but significant differences to this album over the previous ones, although not enough to inspire the kind of giddy pleasure I'd had in listening to the band's first couple of releases.

First and foremost are the none-too-subtle political leanings. Based on previous Godspeed albums I’d developed a suspicion the group had leftward political leanings, but there was nothing overtly Che Guevara-like in their messages. Well, maybe just a little on “Lift…”. But with Yanqui U.X.O. the band hits you right in the face with their flaming anarchist Canadianism, and frankly I found their honesty at least a refreshing change from some of their previous aloofness. Yanqui = oppressive Anglo (most likely American) occupiers, and U.X.O. = unexploded ordnance. It’s a perfect segue into the first track on the album.

So I guess the story this song is trying to tell is about a military invasion into Palestine by the Israelis. Talk about your timely topics! One review I read suggested you play this while listening to the evening world news. How sobering (and at the same time, what an incredibly powerful way to feel the music!). Technically there are a few interesting twists here, with the violin portions in the middle having been recorded and played backwards over the rest of the piece to give a kind of halting feel to the slowly building crescendo (which itself never actually ‘crescends’ – it just kind of ebbs and flows a few times with succeeding force). The only downside I hear on this song is that at the end I’m left with a very vague notion that the whole story hasn’t quite been told. Of course, there is the quieter ‘second half’ also entitled “09-15-00”, which on close listen could be construed as a continuation of the opening track. It could also be something completely unrelated – hard to say. One is left to surmise what this one is all about. Although overall the sound is quite a bit less strident than it’s similarly-named predecessor, this track also has a bit of a kick in the persistent cymbals and almost droning strings. The dull grind of the cello especially causes the listener to feel a bit out of sorts, apprehensive, almost as if the song is foretelling of some terrible happening. The end is rather abrupt and slightly disheveled.

“Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls” starts off with plucking (guitar and also violin, I believe) and a brisk, quiet guitar strum, slowly augmented with violin and cello in that trademark lazy, maddeningly slow way that Godspeed is so good at. This sets both an idyllic and tense mood as the informed listener knows this is building toward something big. And it does, comparatively quickly for these guys – after only about three minutes there is a turgid drone of guitar and drums that alternates with short lulls several times over the next ten minutes or so, with a few bells and a persistent ringing guitar thread that hovers over the whole sordid affair. I won’t bother to explain the entire progression of the track as it lasts a good twenty minutes and moves from what I’ve just described to an interminably slow lull accented with horns and mild percussion, and finally working its way back to the obligatory climax.

The two part “Motherf**ker=Redeemer” is practically an album unto itself, clocking in at an admirable thirty-two minutes plus. From what I understand the album version differs from the CD in that it has a long melodic intro, and is missing the hidden track at the end with the only spoken words on the album (check them out for a chuckle).

This album differs from the previous Godspeed works in that the crescendos are not as predictable, the sound is a bit more stark than anything since their debut, and the variations are more pronounced. But this is a brave new world they have moved into, and leave the hope and promise of further forays in the future, whether under the label Godspeed, or otherwise. Three stars, and very close to four.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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