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You! Black Emperor: Yanqui U.X.O.
Kranky / Constellation, 2002
Posted: November 23,
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
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.
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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