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  Yanqui U.X.O.  
  Godspeed You Black Emperor  
  Constallation / Kranky  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:

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 me.

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.

Related Links:

Malimus's review of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven from back in the day when everyone was heaping praise on GYBE.


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