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19 February 2016

Godspeed You Black Emperor! ‎– 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' (Constellation)

I love the unofficial abbreviation "Yr." for 'your" - thank Sonic Youth for that one - but according to the often-fallible discogs, the vinyl release of this spells out the word "Your" while the various CD issues use the "Yr.". The gatefold sleeve breaks down the movements of each side-long piece, in a very loose graphical score, so you can view this as a 19 track album if you want. I like the side-long approach; I personally think of my own records (the few that I have made) in those terms, one side at a time, as standalone pieces. 'Storm' is the first of the four; it begins with a 'classic' GYBE! sound, with a militaristic drumbeat behind a ringing mishmash of harmonies, like if Vibracathedral Orchestra met Bedhead or something. When cranked up loud (and my neighbours must really be enjoying the GYBE! phase of my record accumulation) you can hear all of the violins pushing against each other in the upper mids, making this feel like the sound of internal combustion. The overall 'Storm', being another twenty minutes of music in four parts, really feels like it ends after it's second movement, 'Gathering Storm'; then we get some field recordings of airport announcements and the lush 'Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way' which takes out the side with deep, ringing low piano chords, practically Well-Tuned in how they create spacious toneclouds. 'Static' is the name of side two and it opens with rotating electro-acoustic drones, before some neo-romantic violin takes over ('Atomic Clock') and here's an evangelical preacher overdubbed, in what's becoming a bit of a Godspeed You Black Emperor! cliché by this point. And you know the rest - guitars slowly noodle into place, the strings grow out of the ambience and take on a life of their own until the motion has gradually become more steady, until it's oceanic. But this doesn't crash into a epic riff-jam - instead 'World Police and Friendly Fire' takes centre stage, where plucked cello notes build a tense momentum. It's a good segue and throughout the rest of the side, this develops around that theme, with instruments coming and going, dense drones behind the melody, teasing us that it's not going to turn into a confident rock jam. But it does - and it's somewhat diminishing, a bunch of musicians playing in a groove, though more composed than a jam. A few of them are keeping a steady crashing drone going, some are focusing on the melodic riff, and the bass/drums hold things tight; it's post-Slint, post-rock as we called it back then, and it's only the buildup and release, buildup and release that keep it from becoming boring (even though we know where it's going all along). But it's not the end - there's an outro, a thick ambient drone that could be smack off the first Labradford album, with the title 'The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now'. And however you may feel about their ascendant indie rock parts, these electroacoustic bits take familiar sonography (bowed cymbals, oscillating drone strings, endlessly echoing roomspace) and somehow create something unique. At this halfway point I'll try to articulate my feelings about GYBE! circa the release of this record, because they seemed unstoppable, yet somehow sort of turned into furniture. All my college buddies were in awe of what they were doing, partially because it has all the art gestures (scrawled song titles, cryptic language, and the good sense to sit back and let the music tell the story) and partially because it's always impressive where this many people get together to make music without some major financial backing behind them. But I was starting to get a bit tired of it; for as enjoyable as this double LP is to listen to now, fifteen and one-half years later, I remember feeling rather disappointed by it all. Apart from the fourth side, it all felt repetitive. So I gave up on this band - I didn't listen to their followup, and when I heard they re-formed (or at least put out their first record in ten years) awhile back I wasn't really interested. I'm a fickle beast, or I was at age 20, but I did see them one last time, at a University-funded concert that worked for a band with mid-sized popularity: pretty good sound, films, and all were on display. They played the hits from Slow Riot  and I think some stuff from this album and probably a whole lot of improvisation - to be honest, the Morricone parts all sound pretty much the same after awhile so I don't really remember. But at some moment it really hit me - maybe when they played 'Moya' or maybe they even played the immortal 'BBF3' live - my memory is really hazy -- and I suddenly realised how fucking amazing and great this band really was. I mean, I was already a fan, a rabid one at first, then a subdued one (no doubt due to them no longer being my 'secret' and their rise in popularity, cause that's the 19 year old mentality), but I left that concert with a deep, deep appreciation. It was an appreciation that wasn't so much about their music, but one that extended someone to an overall idea of ideology. Because I realised, during this horrible time where George W. Bush had just stolen an election and global capitalism was running rampant (and this was pre-9/11 of course) that what Godspeed You Black Emperor! were doing was PUNK ROCK - though of course it didn't sound like the Germs or Crass or Naked Raygun even but rather it was a truly progressive idea of what 'punk' could be; what it could mean, if you want to care about such stupid ideologies. And I did, at least then, and was constantly looking for a way to reconcile that concept with something more progressive. So yeah, if I wanna dismiss them I'll just say they're soundtrack music but the truth is, these Nucks seemed committed to a vision, and I don't know anything about them (they stay pretty anonymous at least across these records) but at that moment, watching these ravaged grainy films that were so bleak and hopeless and full of rage and beauty at the same time - it all clicked with me. So yeah, back to the record - side three is called 'Sleep' and it starts off, well, sleepy (despite more spoken overlays). But the middle segment, 'Monheim', is more of the same yet somehow brighter - the drumming takes on a frantic, almost jazzy cadence, and a drone of higher pitch eventually takes over, the rest of the band fades out, and it turns into this repetitive texture with subtle xylophone tinkles before coming into another rock bit - the 'bringing it all back home' feel, not in the Dylan sense, but more like some kinda of journey. And then: the fourth side, one in which I remember a friend, one of the same friend with whom I drove two hours one night to see them on the Slow Riot tour, referred to as "just a bunch of noise" -- but this quarter of the record, the semi-titular 'Antennas to Heaven', is definitely a departure. It opens with some singing and strumming, and then moves through seven different segments that are far more textural and less concerned with making cohesive melodic riffs than anything to-date. There is an explosive, rocking musical passage in the middle with a bunch of slide guitar and a Hawaiian feel, but it's actually overshadowed by how the rest of the piece is some more loose and episodic than anything they've done before. I know I ranted and raved in the last post about how 'BBF3' is their masterpiece, and it really is, but this is probably my second favourite side of theirs. The Slow Riot EP really stands out against these other two records because those two compositions are tight, and this and the first album are collages formed into side-long compositions, for the most part. And it's a lot of music - listening to Lift Your Skinny Fists knocks out most of an evening, or at least it feels that way. So I'm content having stopped here; I'm left with three records that still feel special to me, even if I used up their inspiration-charges a long time ago. It might even be a nostalgia trip now, for the most part, but it's a sufficiently  soundtracked trip indeed.

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