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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven CD (album) cover


Godspeed You! Black Emperor


Post Rock/Math rock

4.13 | 523 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' - Godspeed You! Black Emperor (83/100)

Unlike so many of rock music's offshoots and derivatives, post-rock history only hit its stride in the new millennium. That Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is already considered such a classic in spite of its relative youth (14 years, by my current count) might suggest the depth and burstfire influence it's had on music since. While most 14 year olds are in the mid-reaches of Middle School and possibly eschewing their Star Wars lunchboxes in favour of experimentation with lurid marijuanas and cheap liquor, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists has set the standard for one of the most interesting stylistic developments of the millennium. Like the music itself or not; that's a pretty goddamned impressive feat.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor were a point of contention throughout my youthful listening ventures. I've always been a fan of the 'cinematic' experience in music, and Godspeed have that painted all over them; at the same time, in spite of my enduring love of the ambient form, there's just been something about their work that's kept me from loving it. I remember listening to their debut in high school and being completely unmoved by it, much to the chagrin of friends with nothing but lavish praise to give the band. Some years later, and I am beginning to see what I missed with Lift Yr. Skinny Fists. Undoubtedly, it's a more compelling experience than its predecessor, not only improving on the longwinded orchestrations of F♯ A♯ ∞ but also expanding past it. Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven simultaneously manages to be more ambitious and more accessible than Godspeed were before. It's a cinematic experience in sound-form that consequently nearly lasts the length of the average film. For all of its meticulous detail and scope, it's still not as emotionally compelling as I would have liked to hear in a post-rock recording, but I've little doubt Lift Yr. Skinny Fists justifies the respect and most of the acclaim its earned.

The 'four tracks, twenty minutes each' format here reminds me of another of my favourite ambient double albums. Indeed, Tangerine Dream's chilling Zeit comes to mind several times; in spite of Zeit being a predominantly electronic release and Skinny Fists consisting largely of electric guitar flourishes and sampled field recordings, there's a similar sense of awe and immersiveness to be felt here. Although I've had at least one friend proclaim to me that Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is the embodiment of what post-rock is all about, each time I've listened to the album it's never felt like an all- encompassing description of the music. The quintessential post-rock crescendos and expansive textures are here in full, but the album would just as easily merit the label of 'ambient'. I believe it was Brian Eno that described ambient music as something that could be enjoyed in the background as well as it could be dissected by an active and attentive ear. I might go a step further and say it is good ambient music that does this; Lift Yr. Skinny Fists is no exception.

The daunting prospect of four massive movements is either downplayed or amplified by the fact that the pieces aren't so much start-to-finish compositions as they are each homes for consistently eclectic (and seemingly unrelated) ideas. Even after becoming familiar with Lift Yr. Skinny Fists as a whole, it's still difficult to draw an association between the beginning and end of a movement. Judging from the appropriately byzantine track listing (with enough listed sub-sections to make King Crimson whizz their pants) the four chunks are so divided to give the sense of 'vinyl sides' in a digital age; more than that, the spoken word samples are given greater weight and poignancy when there's no track distinction separating them from the music itself. As it tends to be with potentially abstract work like Skinny Fists-no inherent meaning is laid out for the audience to draw from- most of the way these four compositions interact within themselves can and should be interpreted subjectively. Rest assured, there's no doubt that the album has been arranged the way it is with meticulous care and focus.

Although they occupy a much smaller proportion of the album than I was expecting, the actual post-rock segments are easily the best thing Skinny Fists has to offer. I swear the first time I listened to the uplifting beginnings of "Storm", it felt like I was falling in love in the summer, even though I was listening to it on a stinky bus with clouds pissing rain every which way outside. The latter movements ("Sleep" and "Antennas to Heaven") are even more glorious in this regard; the latter of the two in particular has a beautifully vulnerable air to the way the guitars bend and weep. I think one of the things that keeps me from calling Godspeed's opus one of my favourite post-rock records is that so much of the time spent listening to it is in anticipation for these gorgeous orchestrations.

The ambiance and samples are clear downtown compared to the album's more lavish passages, but there's plenty of surprising depth. The much-talked about voice samples could have essays written about them regarding what Godspeed You! Black Emperor might be trying to say with them. From the Arco AM/PM Mini-Mart disclaimer at the end of "Storm" (alerting its customers to be suspicious of potential panhandlers) to Murray Ostril's elegy for a now-deceased Coney Island at the beginning of "Sleep", Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven feels like a melancholic response to the way modern society has robbed life of magic and meaning. This interpretation is made problematic with the inclusion of a fringe Christian preacher during the album's most ambient piece "Static", in which a search for meaning is outlined in religious terms of an almost frightening conviction. I usually find spoken word segments lose their value within a few listens of an album, but in the case of Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, I'm finding myself constantly wondering what the hidden meaning of it all might be, as if it's some kind of subjectively metaphorical Rubik's Cube, begging to lend its secrets to the thoughtful listener. Of course, no explicit explanation can or should ever tarnish the experience of this album; part of the enduring fascination I have with this album is the sense that I'm nurturing an increasingly unique and individual experience of it every time I give it a listen. Hopefully you'll feel or have felt a similar satisfaction listening to it.

Considering how emotional Godspeed You! Black Emperor's particular type of post-rock tends to be, it's fairly surprising (and disappointing) that they seem to keep an emotional distance from their audience throughout the album. The mish-mash of spoken word segments with ambiance and steady crescendos only works if it entreats a subjective response from the listener, but Godspeed performs their music with a certain rigid quality; more akin to an orchestra, it snuffs out any personal imprint in favour of colouring within the lines of the composition. Yet, I don't think staying true to the composition and sincerity are mutually exclusive; Explosions in the Sky's music has always felt purposefully composed, and listening to some of their best work it feels like I could be hearing them in some resonant living room-space. Godspeed You! Black Emperor are much more aloof; very little seems to have been bred out of spontaneity, and even the smallest details appear to be the product of forethought. It's as if they've erected the album as a sort of monolith; the two options given to the listener are to stay away from it, or solemnly appreciate it from arm's length. This is not necessarily a bad thing in of itself, but in the case of Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, I'm a little puzzled that such an academic stance would be taken with such a subjective piece of art.

So much more than the typical post-rock album, Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is one part gorgeously arranged rock orchestra, one part ambient, and one part field recordings and poignant vocal samples. Beyond the more technical points of its production (which is near-perfect for what it sets out to do) the result is an album that could be interpreted a countless number of ways. Like a lot of great art, the experience and interpretation of the album is determined in large part by the inner workings of the person listening to it- I know that could be said for all of music or art, but especially in the case of Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, equally sound and plausible arguments could be made praising or denouncing it, for the sheer sake that it's left to the listener to draw the conclusions themselves. It's wonderfully subjective for such an oddly impersonal album. It's far from being a favourite of mine in post-rock or otherwise, but I'm damned if there aren't few to equal it in terms of scope and depth.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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