Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.

It seems inevitable that every record Godspeed You Black Emperor!, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor as they are now known, release will immediately elevate itself to a classic in my mind. They are not the world’s most diverse band, exploring much the same sounds and ideas on each of their releases so far. However they do this so near perfectly that it feels that they could keep doing it for all eternity without the music ever becoming tired. The subject of their music is often grim and they manage to recreate the sound of the Apocalypse countless times on each record. On this record, they do away with the field recordings which have been a large part of previous releases, leaving no oral clues as to the message of the pieces and increasing the intensity of the songs. Instead the liner notes give us a more concrete explanation of the pieces message, telling us ‘09-15-00’ is ‘ariel sharon surrounded by 1,000 israeli soldiers marching on al-haram ash-sharif& provoking another intifada’ and provide us with the diagram below showing the links between the major record companies and the arms industry. However despite the band’s ability to so eloquently distill into music the fucked up nature of the world today, they never appear to lose hope. It is this which makes their music so magical. In the words of the band:

Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity wasn’t his greatest work, but it is still pretty fucking awesome.

&hope still, a little resistance always maybe stubborntiny lights vs. clustering darkness foreverok?

The album consists of three pieces across five tracks and 75 minutes. Without field recordings there are no interruptions within the music and in this sense this album is closer to a long classical piece than their previous work. The first two tracks make up ‘9-15-00’ . Like many of gy!be’s pieces it starts quietly with the same three bars repeated again and again and slowly evolving as more of the instruments come in and the sound grows. After a lull, we have another quiet start, slow build before the music again dies away. With each repetition of this cycle, the tension grows. The process is repeated twice more however on these occasions instead of dying away the sound just keeps growing, on the first occasion plateauing and on the second exploding into one of the climaxes which are so characteristic of gy!be’s music. This is the end of the first track. The second track is the calm after the storm. Consisting of sparse plucked guitar and strings, it again consists of a simple phrase repeated with subtle variations but now the tension has been replaced with tranquility. If ‘9-15-00’ is the sound of Ariel Sharon provoking another intifada then this second track perhaps symbolises some much hoped for future peace (whether that peace is the result of the two sides having completely destroyed each other is less clear).

‘Rockets fall on Rocket Falls’ begins in a similar vein, with slow building guitar and strings. As the drums come in it rises further, fades then rises again into a massive sea of sound before dying away. The sound begins to build again with lone drum beats soon joined by solemn clarinets and trumpet. Over the next five minutes instruments are slowly added to the mix and you can tell it is only a matter of time until it all explodes. As the squalls of guitar build eventually it does, but sounding far more optimistic and less apocolyptic than expected. This is followed by a short outro played by a single violin over waves of noise still resonating in the background, eventually fading away to nothing.

‘Motherfucker=Redeemer’ is the final piece on the album and again consists of two tracks. It is also the album’s epic streaching over 30 minutes. Starting out even quieter than normal with a bell like sound it slowly builds picking up a faster, almost danceable beat. Guitars, strings and drums are added as the sound builds, dies down and starts again. This time there is no reprieve and there is cathartic release of noise. The beat slows and the piece moves into a quiet section. Eventually there is just a single guitar left playing over the echoes of the previous chaos. Again it’s clear the calm won’t last and it is only a matter of time before (yes, you guessed it) it begins to build again but on this occasion soon dies away with strings soon added over the now quiet guitar. After a couple of minutes, the strings stop and we are again left with a solitary guitar. After the relative restraint of the first half of this piece it is no surprise that the second track is more explosive. Beginning as various screeches and wails, the drums come in and the sound starts to grow. As the guitars and strings are added, there is soon a wall of sound. Eventually this dies away and we are left with quiet notes being played over static. The piece tries to build again but fails and only static, faint feedback and strings are left before they are suddenly sucked into a black hole and all that is left is silence.

Yanqui U.X.O. is, in my opinion, not gy!be’s best album. In fact, of their four releases it is probably the one I like least. This remark must be taken in context however. Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity wasn’t his greatest work, but it is still pretty fucking awesome. Reading my rather mediocre description of the tracks above, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to gy!be’s music — quiet start with simple short phrase repeated, increase volume adding more and more instruments until everything explodes, repeat as necessary ending with a quiet coda representing the calm after that storm. And in essence, there is nothing more to almost all their pieces than this. Yet somehow they manage to convey such anger, destruction, desolation, abondonment and yet still a little hope that their music, to my ears at least, is unlike anything else I have ever heard. When George W. finally succeeds in starting a nuclear war and dooms us all to destruction, and they have nuked the rest of the planet and still have tens of thousands of bombs left so it is only a matter of time before it is Melbourne’s turn, this is the band I will be listening to. And I am sure even then they will make me feel just a glimmer of hope that somehow, somewhere things will turn out better.

9 comments posted — most recent by Andy on 24/10/06