All Sweetness And Blight

I was feeling a bit apocalyptic today and so I reached for Godspeed You! Black Emperor Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven; roughly an hour and half of death and resurrection, flight and fall from the year 2000.  I can say without fear of contradiction and you’ll have to hear me out and bear with me here, that GY!BE are my favourite 9-piece avant-classical-post-rock-holocaust purveyors from Montreal. No, it’s true – all the other ones are shit*.

I don’t play this LP very often, how could I? how could anyone? it would be completely overwhelming, but it really does hit the mark for me when I do.  It isn’t my favourite GY!BE album, but it is their best I think, in that it is the closest to seeing them play live.

The music is split into 4 tracks, ‘Storm’, ‘Static’, ‘Sleep’ and ‘Antennas To Heaven’ one for each side of an LP and from there into a number of named sections, movements with all manner of very GY!BE-esque titles such as ‘Gathering Storm/Il Pleut à Mourir [+Clatters Like Worry]’ and ‘She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field’.  It all feels very important.  Sometimes you can spot the joins between, other times not.

Click to make it bigger (baby!)

The band helpfully illustrate their music for us in a linear diagram inside the gatefold, which shows the relative lengths of the sections/pieces and also their shape – tapering upwards when a track peaks.  It really works to help understand the music and also the band’s conception of the music too.

The cliché of post rock is that every track starts out gently and then works its’ way up into a towering frenzied climax, before setting out on an even higher plateau of sound towards the next crescendo.  That’s fine and it does hold to an extent, but when GY!BE are driving the sound like they this then I find myself powerless to resist all this sweetness and blight. .

Panopticon design. Damn you Jeremy Bentham!

Take ‘Sleep’ as an example (I think the precise bit is called ‘Monheim’) where after some gentle voice reminiscing about the decline of Coney Island the band gradually load up on sound and take us careering towards the hills of LOUD, all stringed instruments wailing and building until you feel wrung out and like you can’t take any more.  Then and only then do you realise that you’re not there yet, the band have a whole new gear to change up into.  Multiply that by ten, with the volume set to ‘kill’ and you have some approximation of the live experience.

Needless to say Lift Your Skinny Fists** is a serious proposition, GY!BE make music to soundtrack our inevitable descent into the uncaring void, no songs about hot rods or chicks here and despite my propensity to mock, I love it.  I think that breaking the music up into 4 sides actually helps the listener to chew it over and absorb it, it’s a more manageable experience than the CD. 

Detail

Last track ‘Like Skinny Antennas To Heaven’ is possibly the most experimental here, it sounds quite rough in places, which is unusual given how burnished some of their studio work can sound.  I love how the jumble of field recordings, eerie open spaces and, at one point, an earnest hopeful guitar line, blend and meld into something much bigger than the sum of the parts involved.  I find it repays some serious visiting and revisiting.

The musicianship throughout is top-notch, without ever over-virtuosoing things, lengthy and intense-y as it all is, there is rarely a spare note.  The drumming is the thing I noticed most this time around, odd when so much of the LP doesn’t feature any.  Every so often it just kicks in steadily and the music coalesces around it, ready to march you up to the top of that hill again.

As always, Lift Your Skinny Fists is a beautifully presented LP.  The gatefold diagram is a real treat, the inner sleeve pictures by William Schaff frightened the bejeezus out of me when the band used them as projections (along with lots of Canadian railroads and road views) and one of the LP labels features another, very GY!BE diagram, of a panopticon; abortive prison design and overweening metaphor for surveillance in modern life, again much featured in this band’s projections.  All joy and hope is here. 

Who is this cool band playing?

Got serious if you want it.  And why not, occasionally at least? this is not a great time of year for me and a vacillate between embracing the darkness herein, blasting it in a cleansing fury, scouring my soul clean and walking anew in the world and/or playing some trivial shit.

Tonight I lift my own skinny fists like antennas to heaven, whilst reminiscing about a Coney Island childhood that was never my own.

906 Down.

*I stole this opening paragraph wholesale from another GY!BE review I wrote, partly because I liked it, but mostly because I was having real trouble starting it off.

**as it will henceforth be shortened to, by imperial decree.

19 thoughts on “All Sweetness And Blight

  1. It’s -29C with the windchill out there tonight, and the wind is howling and blowing snow in white-outs all over the damn place. I had to deal with a flat tire (thanks CAA!) and make several trips through town in all this winter beauty. But now it’s later and, thanks to this post, I threw this album on and I’m sitting here by the fire, soaking in its warmth and drinking tea and realizing that this is a band that NEEDS to be on LP. And I own none of them on LP. So as I contemplate my whimpering VISA card and the eye rolls my loely wife is sure to send my way, I wonder which record I’ll get first. This one? Or do I go chronologically? Or get the newest and work backwards? Or just at random, as and when I find them and can afford them? The options are endless…

    1. Sounds like the perfect music for the perfect time. I genuinely can’t even imagine -29C … -14C is about as low as I’ve ever got.

      The LPs aren’t expensive, they’re always in print. I’m just saying.

      Personally I’d go for F#A#.

  2. This group is right up near the top of my ‘must explore’ list
    I’m pleased that you also have a different definition for ‘favourite’ and ‘best’ – I think many of my favourite albums are note-for-note perhaps not the artist’s finest work, but I’ll take a qualitatively favourite record over a quantifiably best record any day!

  3. You know, ushering in a new year can remind us of our inevitable descent into the uncaring void. Plus, Wednesdays. This is one of those reviews that makes me want this album. But then I’d have to get a turntable. Then there’d be no stopping, at least until the uncaring void grabs hold.

    1. Thanks Danica, you made me smile. That’s a noteworthy occurrence in January.

      Please don’t buy a turntable … that really is the beginning of the descent into the … (etc etc). Trust me, I’m a doctor (in a strictly untrue sense of the word).

  4. This was the first GY!BE album I heard… I couldn’t get into it at all, but I didn’t have it on vinyl and that looks and sounds like it would make the difference.

    Looks like a really excellent LP though… really impressed.

      1. I’m only familiar with a couple, but I think that’s one of them. The only other is Allelujah!… which I believe you got me into (I think you posted about that one, eh?)

      2. Gah! Busted!

        Maybe my mate mentioned it to me, then. That was how I heard this one. We’ll go with that explanation… I’d never be unfaithful to you x

      1. Sometimes when an artist is forced to write within certain constraints, the results are genius. As it turns out, 4 sides of 20 minute vinyl often works that way…

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