Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Although Radioheads release Kid A topped many lists in terms of anticipated albums for the year 2000, I've been looking forward to this release since the Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP came out over a year ago. At that time, I thought that Godspeed You Black Emperor had not only made a big step forward from the sound on their debut release, but they sort of vaulted into the top spot in terms of bands that were holding my interest. With 9 members and an epic sound, they caught my attention and held it, and I found myself hunting down recordings of live shows (and if you've heard any of them, you'll have heard some of the music off this release) and even picking up a copy of their releases on vinyl. You could say I was a bit obsessed.
Then, this fall, I heard they were going on tour and I was lucky enough to be able to see them. If you ever get the chance, I'd highly recommend it, if only to see the large ensemble in action. It's actually this live format that I heard the group comment on in an interview once. Instead of being mainly a studio band (then possibly touring) like most of the groups on the Kranky roster, one of the members of the band said that they were first and foremost a live band who tries to capture the spirit of their live performance on releases. Having heard both their new release and them on tour, I can say that they do a good job of capturing their live energy, yet manage go in other directions as well.
Like their debut release f#a# infinity, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna To Heaven delves more into soundscapes and ambience than their more focused Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP. Not only that, but this is also their most epic release to date, spanning 2CDs and over 85 minutes of music. True, that's not a lot for a double CD set, but given the depth of the tracks on it, much more would seem almost overbearing. As it stands, the group has created 4 nearly 20 minute pieces (name "Storm," "Static," "Sleep," and "Antennas To Heaven") that fall 2 to a disc (or 1 to a side on the double vinyl version). As on their first release, the individual tracks are broken down into smaller 'movements' and the whole 80+ minutes flows amazingly.
Despite the title and the usual sort of distress that creeps into most of their songs, "Storm" actually starts out cautiously optimistic with an album-titled segment that builds slowly and even includes the nice use of horns. Over the course of just over five minutes, it parts the clouds of a dreary day. On the next part of the track though (entitled "Gathering Storm"), the group again builds from a rather calm state to one where the percussion and bass plods along heavily while guitars wail in the background. It's brilliant. There are a few more drifting parts in the first track (including a piano and found-sound piece very reminiscent of something off A Silver Mt. Zions He Has Left Us Alone...).
The second full-length track opens up with a drone of several minutes before a sample of a rather overzealous evangelist fades in and some strings and light guitar caress lightly before building to a near fury. The second half of the track (named "World Police And Friendly Fire") reaches that fury and all 9 instruments blare out a controlled dissonance that is unlike anything they've done before.
I could go on (I've only just discussed the first disc), but this review is already quite long already and I think you get the picture. Not only has the group taken their sound and refined it even more, but even the ambient soundscapes and parts between the actual songs are more well constructed. It's not as musically tight as their last EP, but it takes you by the ears and drags you through even more of an emotional rollercoaster throughout its length. Even after you've listened to all the music on both discs (which takes some time), you'll find different and new things each subsequent time you play the release because of the density of the sound. It's one of the years best, and if you haven't heard this group yet, you'd better get on it.