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Godspeed You Black Emperor!

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Constellation (LP) / Kranky (CD) - 2000

Michael Panontin
The heady 1990s under the Clinton and Chretien administrations oversaw a period of robust economic growth, steadily rising housing prices, and rosy employment rates. This, however, was only half the story. Deficits, external debts, unbalanced budgets and the subtle pressure of neo-con ideology - always lurking in the think tanks and newspaper editorials that genuflect to it - had shackled nominally centrist governments with the twin cuffs of tax reduction and fiscal discipline. By the turn of the new millennium, the veneer of civility that had existed under a tolerant and hopeful left was beginning to fissure. The waning years of the last century saw the embers of street anger ignite in protests not seen since the sixties, culminating in the various global summits in Seattle, Quebec and Genoa.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! seem a natural product of this radical young North America, which was itself really the flowering of the 1980s hardcore undercurrent, by now mostly forgotten in the glossed-over pastiche of the eighties revival. The likes of the Minutemen, Really Red, the Dead Kennedys and countless others traversed the continent playing at VFW halls and cursing the Reagan/Thatcher/Mulroney triumvirate to all (often only a few) who would listen. (Witness, for example, the curious captionless photo in the accompanying booklet of this CD of a teenage hardcore band, its skinheaded singer captured, microphone in hand, in a sort of simian pogo. No explanation - what gives here?)

GYBE's second full-length release, the monumental, sprawling opus Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven marks perhaps the high point of their trademark brooding chamber rock. This 2LP/2CD set, consisting of four approximately 20-minute tracks, is a lush and moving testament of despair and nostalgia, masking a thinly veiled current of rage and frustration that courses through the sadness.

Side one opens with the title track (itself part of the 22-minute piece 'Storm'), a paean to optimism, an uplifting crescendo of guitar, strings and horns that was backed on tour with a super-8 projection of the word "hope" scrawled in black and white atop the band. This was perhaps the closest the band had come at the time to being both indie and rock, and was ultimately a portent to the guitar workings of their next album Yanqui U.X.O.

This six minutes or so of 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists' belies the rest of the album, which actually is GYBE's most serious foray into chamber and classical elements. Take the next track, 'Static' which opens with 'Terrible Canyons of Static', three minutes of GYBE's trademark trippy spacerock feedback. This tentative buildup of introspection and foreshadowing then leads into sombre solo violin over a plucked bass riff before morphing once more into a weighty guitar and violin that recalls the fiery intensity of King Crimson's Red period.

The second disc kicks off with what is easily GYBE's most perfect piece. On 'Sleep', a short taped snippet of a man lamenting the cruel bulldozer of progress while pining for the Coney Island of his youth heralds the sadness to come. This segues into a slow march of guitar/violin, first plodding, then meandering, and finally racing to a frenetic drumbeat, and is amongst the finest space rock ever recorded. Everything culminates in the final section, called 'Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III', replete with glockenspiel, a final plea for hope and joy that should by rights be the closer to a near perfect album.

Unfortunately, the cluttered, 19-minute 'Antennas to Heaven' is a bit of a mess. It's as if GYBE were stretching themselves to fill a fourth side of vinyl where a 60-minute CD-length disc would have sufficed. This lapse of editing notwithstanding, Lift Your Skinny Fists... is Godspeed You Black Emperor! at their most riveting.



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