Review Summary: The Montreal post-rockers release their most challenging record yet for their swan song, and yet it was the only complete album they ever would produce.
This album was released into a fairly terrifying climate. Lets not kid our selves, the beginning of this millennium was, for all its Michael Moore documentaries, green day bandwagon jumping and other general "anti-George bush" sentiments, the world was not a happy place. Its clear Godspeed knew this full well, you only have to look at the album cover of falling bombs to see that. As noted in the sleeve notes, this was a particularly bad year for Israeli conflicts, let along America's scaremongering and apparent death threats over in Iraq; in reality, Godspeed could have gone into recording this album with a supreme level of smugness - a big feeling of 'I told you so'.
In 1998, Godspeed You! Black Emperor! pretty much predicted the end of the world. When everyone else was being affluent and positive with music (emo, hardcore, post-hardcore and post-punk all took giant leaps around this time) Godspeed! released what is still argued as one of the the most dark, depressing albums of all time, which essentially carried the sentiment that, the whole human race will soon implode on itself for its selfishness. Of course, this isn't to say Godspeed started to feel a bit more comfortable in their position, in the year 2000, just before the *** hit the fan, they released an album that moved away from dark, ambient atmospherics and moved more into big, expansive orchestral wonders with 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists...'. But in post-9/11 North America, Godspeed had to be looking at their debut effort all over again and thinking "Christ, we were right".
As a result then, 'Yanqui U.X.O' popped up. It seems apparent that they took a long, hard look at themselves, their past records, and the world that surrounded them and said "right, we're going to do something about this". It would be an understatement to say that this record is a step down from the completely over the top yet very moving 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists' but its still progressive in its own way. Its progressive for Godspeed because, it is, strangely enough, their most conventional record. That is something the band never did previously, before it was all about huge gaps, samples of noises and voice bites and maybe a song hidden in a track if we're lucky. Here, for the first time on a Godspeed record, we have music all the way through. From the very first "western bar" discordant piano hitting its off-kilter rhythm in '09-15-00' to the incredible crescendo of just pure volume in 'mother***er=redeemer (part 2)' it is a constant sound of definable tune, melody and rhythm.
There is absolutely no denying it, this is the most complete record Godspeed ever released, and yet, for some bizarre reason, its the most difficult to get into. It just seems that the gaps and the near-silences and the atmosphere is what makes Godspeed You! Black Emperor who they are. No other band of this genre seem to have even dared to play around with song lengths and gaps in a way thats just so, giving them the exact atmosphere they acquire. And thats exactly what this music is about isn't it? Post-Rock is all about atmosphere. The lack of lyrics and vocals (voice of god narrator, if you will) are there for the purpose of creating an atmosphere, an image in your head of something, which is variable from listener to listener; that is exactly why this music is considered so magical.
Don't get me wrong though, this album is just as moving, intense, stunning and with all the imagery you could hope for, its just a lot more subtle in its approach. '09-15-00' moves along at a cracking pace, one that possess all the dramatics and wonderfully layered instruments you could hope for, building and building in a way Godspeed have perfected time and time again. Whereas 'Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls' shifts dramatically from a pacy, traveling rhythm led by a single guitar line at the foreground, into a very dark, calm before the storm, 'Space Odyssey' - esque sound which again, slowly recharges gathering steam before turning into a complete juggernaut of violent and cathartic noise which ends as really rather thrilling.
The absolute highlight of this album has to go to it's climax though. The final half an hour that makes up 'Mother***er=Redeemer' parts 1 and 2 that is the utter triumph on this record. It is as emotional, dramatic and intense as you could please, and is perhaps a very fitting swan song to post-rock's Canadian pioneers. It all begins with a simple bleeping sound that is almost reminent of a radar searching for living objects, and then, a fully fledged, almost tribal drum beat follows a syncopated guitar line as more and more instruments kick off this finale. It builds and builds is classic Godspeed style until its at full pelt and once again, posses almost all the violence of a punk band. Then suddenly drops off into a spacey delay pedal ridden guitar line and general ambiance. And it essentially trudges along like this for the rest of part 1, with a slight glimmer of hope towards the end.
For Part 2 though, they go all out. "This is it boys & girls, last chance to dance". A sinister violin rings out, and that storm that has been threatening throughout this record finally takes over. There's a ***ing evil black cloud surrounding and there is no escaping it. This is Godspeed's final push, and my god do they go for it. After this dark and sinister music that is quite similar to their previous works, suddenly, a silver lining in the cloud shows itself (about 7 minutes in) there is a key change, and suddenly, suddenly. You emerge in one of the most euphoric listening experiences you'll probably ever experience. Godspeed have a habit of ending their records with a feeling that there is still hope for us yet, and this is no different. Even the incredibly bleak debut of 'f# a# oo' s finale had a slightly more upbeat feel to it in its dreamy rock end, but here, an album that is generally a reflection into the mess we have got ourselves into as humans rather than a prediction (which was that aforementioned debut) Godspeed show us that, despite all the *** ups, all the pain we cause each other, life is still an incredible thing, one that can never be fully grasped, and thats almost the attraction to it and that we can better ourselves as humans.
And so, although this is not their best by a long shot, it is still and incredible piece of music. There is hardly any other records that keep me as gripped and as on the edge of my seat as this, (not even some punk records can match the feeling this gives me) and hardly any other that make me feel quite so amazing once finished. It is an album that reflected not only on the world and its mistakes, but also as themselves as a band (as there are definite references from all their previous work to be picked up on here) and said to themselves "you know what, we did pretty ***ing OK".