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Wash, Rinse, Repeat


Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Yanqui U.X.O.

Kranky / Constellation, 2002

Rating: 4.0



Posted: November 23, 2002

By Laurence Station

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (GY!BE) is part of the music industry. The music industry has links to weapons manufacturers that make bombs that kill people. Thus, GY!BE is to blame for every death that has occurred since the nine-piece Montreal collective's albums have been distributed to the unwitting masses. Yes, it's all Godspeed You! Black Emperor's fault. The group is comprised of amoral killers only interested in profit, no matter the cost in innocent blood.

Okay, that's a bit extreme. GY!BE doesn't physically make the bombs that are then transported to places where people can be killed by them. However, according to the accusatory six-degrees-of-the-Military-Industrial-Complex chart contained within the band's fourth release, Yanqui U.X.O., just about anybody who sells product for mass consumption is culpable in some manner for the creation of death-dealing weaponry. In a "Footnotes Maybe" list, the band professes to profiting from "hateful chain-store sales" and encourages people to resist giving money to such businesses. Unfortunately, you have to wait until you've left said chain-store conglomerate and opened the CD to discover this encouraging bit of anti-capitalism from a group that has been widely distributed for several years now. Throwing stones is a dangerous business. If one wants to play the blame game, then every human being is responsible for some egregious offense in this world; where does it end? Total anarchy, if GY!BE has its way. No governments, no bomb manufacturers, and certainly no evil chain stores that leverage enormous buying power to guarantee releases like Yanqui U.X.O. sell for a reasonably fair price.

GY!BE makes good music. Had it not been for various chain stores, this is one reviewer who wouldn't have had the ability to make that statement. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the group's anti-capitalistic/corporate/democratic government stance is secondary; it's the music that matters, more than whatever political agenda is packaged along with it. On that front, Yanqui U.X.O. succeeds in spots, when the group dynamics are at full power, and fails in others, when the group dynamics get overly repetitive and predictable. Compared to GY!BE's last major release, 2000's bravura Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (back when the band's name was still Godspeed You Black Emperor!, before the center shift of the exclamation point), it falls short. Stacked against the bulk of mainstream music available in chain stores everywhere, it admirably holds its own.

One unique aspect about Yanqui U.X.O. is the lack of interesting found sounds or recordings of manic street preachers and various individuals spouting theories about America as a third world country, and all of us being trapped inside the belly of a horrible machine bleeding to death. Yanqui U.X.O. is just music. A "just music" sort of producer was even brought in to help record the album (alternative/indie über-producer Steve Albini), and the results, while mixed, do present a new slant on the tried and true GY!BE formula.

What you get are five instrumental tracks, adding up to roughly seventy-five minutes in length, with not a stray sound bite or field recording to be found. The first two tracks, "09-15-00" (in two parts), run nearly twenty-three minutes, with the first song following a familiar rise, fall, repeat structure exhaustively explored on prior GY!BE releases. Track 2 is much slower, a simmering pot of water that refuses to boil. The cleverly titled third cut, "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls" (almost twenty-one minutes), does manage to boil over, and quite resoundingly, around the six minute mark, with a pummeling percussive burst that ultimately gives way to a soft, vibrating sheen before shifting into the band's signature sturm-und-drang, full-on orchestral assault.

But it's not until part one of "Motherfucker=Redeemer" that the band hits its collective stride. Racing violins build and blast off, with the rest of the group joining in for a tight and effective jam. Unlike the prior tracks, the energized tempo and near-telepathic interplay between members make for a thrilling, intense ride. The second part of "Motherfucker=Redeemer" offers some interesting guitar and bass dynamics, but it's more of a steady comedown after the thunderous fury of the previous cut.

Other than the repetitive nature of the album's first half, what really drags Yanqui U.X.O. down is the lack of interesting commentary from street poets like Blaise Bailey Finnegan III from 1999's Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada and Murray Ostril's recollections about Coney Island's glory days from the "Sleep" movement of Lift Your Skinny Fists... The mix of GY!BE's repetitive rise and fall approach worked because it had spoken word insertions to play off of. Here it's just the band in a room with Albini, and the music simply isn't overwhelming enough in its own right to stand alongside what has come before it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, except that it ensures that Yanqui U.X.O. will ultimately be remembered more for its inflammatory liner notes, despite claims to the contrary by band members that "it's all about the music." Regrettably the group's poorly-thought-out-and-distributed political stance reveal otherwise.

Turning Japanese
The group's name derives from a 1976 Japanese documentary by Mitsuo Yanagimachi on Tokyo's underground biker gangs called Baraku Emporuru, or, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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