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Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Yanqui U.X.O. CD (album) cover


Godspeed You! Black Emperor


Post Rock/Math rock

3.97 | 293 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars The pioneering Post Rockers of GY!BE faced an inevitable challenge in the follow-up to their epic twin-disc "Lift Your Skinny Fists...etc". And the mixed reception that greeted the band's third album in 2002 showed even devoted fans struggling to keep pace with what was really just a natural advance in their musical agenda.

Like any evolutionary step forward the change was almost infinitesimal but very real, signaled by the artful relocating of the exclamation mark in the ensemble's already odd moniker. It's true the new album was more overtly political, at least in its artwork and title. But the music itself, being entirely instrumental, maintained a fidelity to art over propaganda, despite contentious track titles like the two-part "Motherf*cker=Redeemer" (of course it would have been even more provocative the other way around).

The band didn't tinker much with their neo-classical instrumentation and arrangements, often presented with an avant-garde lassitude ideal for anyone who thought the music of kindred spirits SIGUR RÓS too bouncy and bright. The Godspeed crowd was also renowned for not using keyboards in their mini-symphonies, but is that a mellotron I hear early in "09-15-00", or just the treated sound of a violin or viola?

More attention was devoted to structure and internal flow: note the lack of enigmatic sub-sections. Having fewer transitions between interior movements allowed the players to stretch their music to the breaking point, as heard in the slow heat-death of "Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls". Just when it seems like the tempo is succumbing to the second law of thermodynamics it begins powering up, slowly gaining strength and momentum like a vast, unstoppable glacier (before global warming), at one point suddenly swapping its relentless 4/4 rhythm for an even more urgent 3/4 time.

There seems to have been a deliberate attempt to dial back the uncanny power of earlier efforts. As loud as it often is, the music here leans more toward minimalism, favoring monochromatic repetition instead of Technicolor drama. Maybe the title U.X.O (Unexploded Ordinance) was something more than just an offhand slap at the global military-industrial complex: this is the sound of a highly explosive ensemble, but without the expected detonation.

Or maybe what we're hearing are the smoldering ashes left behind by the auto-da-fé of "Lift Your Skinny Fists..." Either way the results won't have the same immediate impact as the previous album, but given time and patience it may yet prove to be their most accomplished statement.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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