Review Summary: The Montreal many-piece post-rock band's transitional but flawed album.
A few months ago, something happened to me. A couple weeks before I went and did a mad thing, a mate of mine, back in town as he was off term-time from University, proudly showed me his newly purchased vinyl edition of Godspeed's climatic finale 'Yanqui U.X.O'. He said to me at the time 'This is the only Godspeed record I can really listen to properly any more.' This statement, it has to be said, confused me. 'Surely not?!' I thought. 'Not THAT record, that's the one no one likes!'. In fairness, I'd only ever heard bits and pieces of that album, so my opinions on it were misguided and misinformed at best. Then, about a day before I went away to do a mad thing, I was round another friend's house who had just purchased the aforementioned record on CD. Intrigued, I asked if I could borrow it for my trip, and he agreed. So, I listened, and was impressed. But for most of the time still never agreed with the first friend's initial, ambitious statement. Then, just as I was coming to the end of my train journey, the incredible 'Mother***er = Redeemer Part 2' swelled into my ears just as I entered the beautiful, enchanting city of Durham, with its Gothic architecture. 10 minutes later, the track came to its incredible climate, just as a storm was brewing over the city of Newcastle Upon-Tyne, the final glimpses of the sun falling, and I witnessed the incredible skyline of this city just as I crossed the river Tyne. Then, I got off the train, feeling completely overwhelmed and as a wreck of nerves, and thankfully, met the girl of my dreams. We've been happily together ever since.
The reason I told you the events of the above paragraph is to both give context and warning. Context; this is where I first noticed just how good
'Yanqui U.X.O' is and perhaps it was fitting that it was in such dramatic consequences. Warning; This also means that as a result of such a personal experience, my current opinions on the previous and much more acclaimed record 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists...' are very much of a personal nature and you don't have to agree with them whatsoever.
The thing is, is that, without realising it, that amazing summer night in Newcastle was where I first released how actually, 'Lift Yr. Skinny Fists...' is an incredibly overrated album, in my opinion. Before that night, I enjoyed it as an album, but kinda always felt like I was giving it the benefit of the doubt because a)it was Godspeed! and b)Everyone was telling me so. Thus, since then, my opinions on this record have fallen significantly, and here's why.
The primary problem I have with this record, is that, it's unfocused. It doesn't know what it wants to be. Luckily, thanks to the miracle of Time-as-we-know-it, we can look back in retrospect at a band's full body of work. Therefore, for me, this is Godspeed's transitional album from the absolutely stunning, atmospheric, imaginative debut of 'F# A# oo' to the dramatatic, wonderful song
-writing of 'Yanqui U.X.O', something this record doesn't achieve either of, nor carve out it's own personal sound. It is instead, the bridge between two far superior records, showing nothing more than evidence of their past and future directions.
It starts off brilliantly though, that I cannot deny. 'Storm'
is quite possibly my favourite Godspeed song (and saves my rating of this record from being a 2.5 average). Starting off with a slow burning intro with a single guitar line, it slowly, beautifully builds and builds, adding more layers and instruments as it gathers steam, until in gorgeously swims around ears and mind, almost feeling like an epiphany through your life. Then, around the 6 minute mark, it suddenly rings out and breaks off into it's next section which almost totally starts over again, going back to a single guitar line, instruments building, and then, when it hits, its one of the most amazing listening experiences I believe that's out there. When it crashes back into action, kicked off by a thunderous snare drum, it is an absolute treasure of orchestral music, building on beautiful emotion and every single instrument being a fantastic dynamic. All this before a sudden key-change into it's final part, and then, its all over.
Brilliant, then, surely we can expect much of the same from now on then? Well, actually, no. What happens next is probably one of the most underwhelming sections to a supposedly overwhelming record and band ever. Beginning with the 'AM/PM' sample attached to the end of 'Storm' the majority of the record from now on, actually doesn't do a lot. Both 'Static'
are guilty, of promising, but never really delivering. Now given these two tracks are the middle 40 plus minutes of an 80 plus album, that's pretty annoying, given the band's fantastic work to begin and close this record so well. It's just, both tracks, start off with quite haunting samples, noises and guitar/string parts, and build a tiny bit, and then drift off the initial point into a sea of meaningless and generally pointless noise that in no-way recreates the atmosphere of 'F# A# oo' because, this record is desperately trying not to be that album. It doesn't want to be the moody atmospherics of that record, but at the same time, doesn't want to lose it's 'cool' or 'mystery' by actually just writing songs, leaving this a little misguided and in the middle somewhere.
Similarly, finale 'Antennas To Heaven' is structurally, a total mess. it also starts off with some, although quite amusing samples, is just yet another pointless exercise is sampling and droning for the sake of a faux-atmosphere. Then, all of a sudden, it rather unnecessarily, explodes into a brief wall of noise. This, is another thing this album is majorly guilty of. The only technique it really uses is, LOUD-QUIET-LOUD-QUIET and in my opinion is actually more guilty of ripping off Mogwai than people accuse Mono of. To give it, it's due, as a single track 'Sleep' does this quite well, as it bothers to actually flow, but as a whole release, and here, again, on the final track, it's just repetitive and shows signs of weakness.
Interestingly though, after the brief explosion, 'Antennas...' manages to salvage something. I'm not sure what it is exactly, perhaps its drawing up some of the genuine emotion that was displayed in 'Storm', but from about 8 minutes onwards its actually very well written in that the rest of the song withholds itself from going too over the top and remains focused; even the droning, distained guitars right at the end manage to be really moving. So, it almost turns out to be a cheap shot, such a fantastic, subtle and focused ending to a record that is perhaps non of the above. However, it is a pretty good link into what would become their next and final record.
So there it is, I'm aware of the fan-ship this record gets but now that I've experienced everything I can experience from this band, right now, this to me feels like the weakest link. It gives out some fantastic ideas as shown by 'Storm', parts of 'Static' and 'Sleep' and the end of 'Antennas' but as a whole record, it is, in my eyes, inconsistent, clunky and having a personality crisis. What I can be thankful for though, is that it would mean that after writing this record, the band would go on to write a much more worthy swansong, and give me the soundtrack to a very emotional and important part of my life.