Review Summary: As the first decade of the first millennium comes to a close, we should all sit back and appreciate one of the finest works of music that it contained.
There are an infinite amount of different platforms that art can be projected onto. A piece of paper, a wall, a movie screen, even a prop from the outhouse behind Jerry's barbecue can all be used to translate what we feel as humans into a physical form. Each person, however, has their own preferred platform or mode of understanding that best speaks to them. To me, the ears best interpret the complexities of the human condition. When I experience the sonic rapture of music in the right environment, it expands and contracts, bends and pulls, drowns and transcends like no other kind of art.
The art form of music can sometimes be brief, and at other times tedious. And this, of course, is for good reason. The act of a human soul spilling its vibrant contents onto a physical medium is no easy task, and it is one that can be deluded quite quickly and easily. But one thing is for sure: no matter how simple or sprawling, music is meant to be digested. To make the matter go down easier, we mainly digest these sonic bites in the form of albums.
In many ways digesting an album can be compared to digesting a book. Many books can be judged by the cover: silly artwork, trendy font, a terrible name and not much to fill the pages. Others only require one or two attempts to get the full effect, but this isn't to say that many of these opuses have any less value. But a few select albums, like a few select books, are meant to be fully absorbed, taken piece by piece, and set off into our consciousnesses.
One of these such albums is Godspeed You! Black Emperor's 2000 release, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven.
You may be wondering why I required such an introduction for one piece of music. I can assure you that Antennas To Heaven deserves every bit of it to help understand the level of emotion and intellect that this album can reach. The instrumental nine piece (as of 2000) post-rock band from Quebec seemed to have completed its magnum opus in a time period just before the world started changing forever. Its previous efforts, F#A#oo and Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada were splattered all over with anarchy and political discourse. But this one seems to let go of that and focus on the spiritual realm. The results, as you can believe, are breathtaking.
This is the kind of album that forces you to listen dozens of times to get its full effect. On your first listen you might understand the general gist of it, just as you would only understand the skeletal points of a textbook after only reading an assigned chapter once. But as you listen and experience different emotions, scenery, and events in your life, you begin to piece together the puzzle that is this work of art. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. You begin to anticipate the large explosions of distorted tremolo picked guitars and crashing cymbals. You mix all these unseen notes with invisible and possibly unrealized images.
Until finally, it clicks.
The greatest feeling in the entire world is at least achieved and you fully possess a piece of music that is your own, one that has become a part of your life and a part of your surroundings. One that will make you shiver, ecstatic and saddened all at the same time.
But before you attempt this accomplishment, consider the length. Antennas To Heaven is a two disc record, with the run time almost reaching an hour and a half. At times, the music can drag on, and one has to be in the correct mood to fully absorb the emotions that beg to be portrayed. Shockingly still, the record only contains four tracks, and each track title besides the final one is comprised of a single word and a single syllable.
Storm starts off the album sympathetically, with simple clean notes strung together to create a longing melody that seems to call for something. Trumpets begin droning along and quivering violins start to carry the mood until drums finally thunder and the guitars explode, completing a medley that resembles a 21st century rain dance.
Static begins with a manic preacher explaining how to reach "the most high god," all while violins lift his message to supernatural standards. Later the song hits one of the biggest "musical orgasms" of the entire record with its congestion of notes reaching faster tempos swirling together until they combust.
Sleep famously starts off with an old man talking about the good old days. He gives his heartbreaking revelation of how the spirits of his past now in the present "don't sleep anymore on the beach." This transitions into perhaps the most diverse and entertaining song on the record, with each movement growing more epic and louder until the final piece ends on a steady drum beat, dragging the rest of the decaying song behind it.
Antennas To Heaven ends the album perfectly with possibly the most spiritual sounds that have ever passed into my ears. The closing few minutes always piece together for me the narrative of a desperate world crying out to the heavens for help. Drearily the electronic call of the "powers that be" deliver in response their devastating, all knowing answer to its helpless servants.
As the album comes to a close you may realize one of the greatest advantages about this gigantic piece of music: All the sprawling landscapes, roaring crescendos, deafening explosions and withering conclusions leave the entire records interpretation up to you, handing you only 4 song titles (or 6 words) to help guide you. The records completed form finally represents the heart of what art is in its final stage: A catalyst to interpret what sorts of emotions the artist was trying to convey. This album allows more of a free range than almost any recording I have ever listened to, and therefore gives an infinitely more interactive and thought provoking experience.
The relevance of this monumental record in the genre that is known as post-rock is unparalleled, and its classic status is denied by no one that understands the genre completely. I understood that I failed to mention any criticisms besides perhaps its massive listening curve and the need to be in the mood to listen to hour and a half of music. However, these characteristics are not faults but rather positive aspects because of the satisfaction that comes with them. To find many faults with this album I believe you would have to either have a short attention span, or a misunderstanding of what the work represents. I would say this album is not for everyone at first glance, but I believe with an open mind everyone can come to appreciate its absolute beauty.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven wins the honor of my favorite album from the new millennium. As the "aughts" come to a close, we should all take the time to absorb (or further enjoy) one of the richest, fullest experiences that has been put down to a listenable format in our latest decade. Just remember to give this more than one, two, three, even eight chances to fully appreciate. Trust me, it's worth the effort.