Three years ago, you couldn't spit in an Online
Indie Music Zine without hearing people rant about the glory
and uniqueness of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Even we here at
EvilSponge joined in, heaping praise on the annoyingly titled
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like
Antennas To Heaven.
Nowadays, you will have trouble finding a critic ranting about
GYBE. It seems that the novelty has worn off. Great -- so they
are a chamber orchestra that fuses rock and classical themes
in a dark depressing socialist fashion. Good for them.
It seems as if people just don't care so much anymore. Which
bothers me. Did all of those people like GYBE more for the fact
that their music was (and still is, mind you) unlike the rest
of the stuff out there, and less for the fact that the music
was good and interesting? Does the fact that their new album,
Yanqui U.X.O., has recieved less than stellar
reviews indicate that it is a weaker album?
Well my answer to the second question is no. In fact, i like
Yanqui U.X.O. significantly more than i liked
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.
The band has continued to grow, to experiment. Granted, they
are experimenting within the confines they have made for themselves
(classical meets rock), but they are experimenting nonetheless.
Let me state right now that i am not really into classical
music. I listen to NPR every once in a while, and there are
two types of things i hear: really old shite composed by guys
who wore powdered wigs, and interesting music that seems to
play with the layering of the many sounds in an orchestra (Debussey,
Varese, Holst -- these are the names i hear the DJs say after
these songs are over). I hate that powdered wig stuff, but like
the other stuff. I think the other stuff is "contemporary classical"
(a term which seems oxymoronic to me -- but, whatever).
I say all of this because on the second track of Yanqui
U.X.O., the cunningly titled Rockets Fall on Rocket
Falls, GYBE seem to have come pretty close to the really
good contemporary classical stuff. This piece moves along like
a regular GYBE song, then, at about the 7 minute mark, the strings
swell up and descend rapidly to a quick and very NPR sounding
denoument. The strings repeatedly make a "descending sound".
I don't know how else to describe it, although i know that whatever
they are doing is a common technique because even i have heard
it before. However, GYBE use it to add power to the song: it
is as if the strings are silencing the rocking aspects of the
band. Then, for a few minutes, the song is a minimalist classical
tune -- light percussion and long slow and quiet string hits.
A really beautiful interlude. Eventually a lone horn joins in,
and suddenly i am reminded of Miles Davis's Sketches of
Spain (and that is a good thing). Eventually other elements
join in and the song builds to a slow fury of guitar and strings,
with the drums making a ponderous, repetitive rhythm for almost
9 minutes: thudding away slowly under the strings, until they
are cut free to rock out again.
This song really works for me, and i find myself listening
to it over and over again. The other two pieces on the disc
are also interesting, but this one song really stands out to
Additionally, the music is no less passionate and powerful
on Yanqui U.X.O. than it ever was. The songs still
swell into a frenzy of guitar and violins and thundering drums
(the presence of Albini's production on this disc is felt in
the sheer wonderfulness and power of the drums!). However, Yanqui
U.X.O. is less dark than previous GYBE releases. I think
this is due to the lack of vocal samples. On the early GYBE
releases the music was dark when the strings and guitars and
drums spiraled around apocalyptic rantings. Depressingly dark
at times. I love those early releases, but can't listen to them
too often. This album is not depressing, and i think that's
due to the lack of vocal samples.
So, to sum up, this is a fine album that fans of the band will
definitely enjoy. If you have never given them a spin before,
but are looking for a way in, then this album is a good start,
i think. But remember to have patience: Godspeed songs build
slowly. They are worth the wait though.