Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O.
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Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Yanqui U.X.O.
(Constellation / Constellation Records)

Godspeed You Black Emperor is one of those groups whom I stumbled upon almost by accident a couple years ago and never turned back from. They took elements of classical, post and punk rock, ambient, and field recordings and somehow weaved it all into a magical sound that, despite it's somewhat downcast feel, gave me a little bit more hope. Every subsequent release has been eagerly anticipated, and Yanqui U.X.O. is no different. On a statement released with this album is the sentence, "the new album is just music," and that small statement can be read a variety of ways.

Strictly musically speaking, Yanqui U.X.O. is just what the statement says. Whereas the group encorporated found-sound recordings and other drifting passages in their past three releases (to the liking of some and the chagrin of others), this release is 75 minutes of pure music. There are quieter passages, and there are once again bombastic moments as well, but there is never an off moment. In that respect, the group feels more solid than ever, unfolding three songs over the course of 5 epic tracks, unveiling pieces that feel more like orchestral movements than simply smaller pieces of a larger whole.

Reading the above statement yet another way, one can easily take it as a statement for those who wish to pry meaning out of each and every thing that the group does. It's no secret that the group speaks their mind when it comes to politics (and the detailed drawing linking the big four media groups to production of military weapons), and while the group themselves makes references to different tracks in the liner notes to stir the imagination, they also admit their own implication when it comes to terms of their record being sold at chain-stores and other large media outlets (in turn owned by one of the members of the chart). It might 'just' be music, but if it's enough to inspire some action and involvement, (as the punctuation change in their name possibly suggests), hopefully it will inspire You! to action (or at least give you a little more hope).

Because of some of the above-mentioned items, Yanqui U.X.O. is probably one of the more difficult releases by the group to wrap your head around. While Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven was also a long release in that it was essentially 4 tracks stretched out over 90 minutes and 2 CDs, those tracks were in turn broken down into smaller segments (by samples or other instrumental bits that offered a bit of respite). Here, there are basically 5 segments, which in turn run only 15 minutes less than all the material on that last release.

"09-15-00" opens the release as reverbed guitars and thick percussion slowly builds out of a quiet harpsichord melody. Slowly piling on strings and more swirling guitars as it goes, the track takes a very undulating course, rising and falling very subtlely until it lays things to waste about ten minutes into the 17 minute long track. The 6 minute reprise of the track drifts like smoke clearing on a battlefield, with echoing guitar plucks and percussion ringing out over sad strings and quiet guitar feedback ripples. From the urgent opening guitars of "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls," it's obvious that it's teetering on the brink of an explosion, but once again the group builds the anticipation, letting small slivers of noise slip out before letting loose with a squall of blistering guitars and strings. From there, the track drops off into a middle section of plucked strings and again the tension bar is raised, as melancholy horns by Rob Mazurek and crew give it an even more deserted feel. Eventually, the track builds to another plateau, and while it's not quite as loud as expected, it sounds downright optimistic in contrast to the somewhat claustrophobic other three-quarters.

"Motherfucker = Redeemer" is the album closer, and at over 30 minutes in its two segments, its easily the epic of the album. Those who have heard the group live in the past two years have already most likely heard it in some form (as it had gained the status of a grand track not yet recorded by the group), but they've given it the royal treatment here, building from quiet chimes to an absolute thundering peak (again stretching the build out with subtle ripples and changes) before nestling back into quieter moments before a heaving and gasping reprise. In the end, it's another amazing release from the group, but it's not something that you can simply sat back with in one night and expect to digest. It's a release that refuses to be rushed, and while it still holds some of the basic things in common with releases of the past by the group, it also finds them developing their sound into something slightly different. It's a little bit less about the destination, and more about the journey, and despite that lingering statement about it being 'just music,' I've still managed to blather on about it for quite some time. That should tell you something right there.

rating: 8.510
Aaron Coleman 2003-06-19 00:00:00