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Monday, April 29, 2013

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

 photo Gybeyanquiuxo_zpsc2689105.jpg

Twenty-plus minute long songs can easily become pretentious. The fact that Godspeed largely avoided that on their first three albums is a minor miracle. Somehow, through winding musical passages and pre-recorded, found speeches, everything just worked. This isn't the case for 2002's Yanqui U.X.O. For this album, the band cut out all pre-recorded speeches and samples and just stuck to music. This proves to be a pretty serious mistake. The rambling speakers Godspeed was known for marked changes in passages and mood, landmarks in the vast expanses of their musical landscape. Without them, Yanqui U.X.O. feels aimless. Producer, Steve Albini, allows the band far too much room to meander, pluck one guitar note a million times, and generally waste many minutes doing nothing. Brevity is a virtue when your album clocks in at 75 minutes. Repetition is not.
To harp on a point, in the spirit of this very album, Albini might be Yanqui U.X.O.'s problem. He doesn't rein Godspeed in at all, and his raw recording techniques do little to benefit Godspeed's sound. This is a band with two drummers, but any time the drums go momentarily silent in the middle of an intense Yanqui U.X.O. moment, it's because the drummers are doing rolls on their tom-toms, and Albini didn't capture the sound well enough.
Yanqui U.X.O. has its moments, though. The strongest is "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls," perhaps the album's most focused song. "Rockets Fall..." sounds like it could soundtrack footage to the War in the Pacific. It starts with a huge build before suddenly shifting into a surprising, 50's-style cinematic horn part, dropping into a musical Bataan Death March, picking up the horns again, and then slowly building into one of Godspeed's classic victorious jams. It's one of the only surprising tracks on the album, the only one that flies by despite its length, and easily the most satisfying. If the rest of Yanqui U.X.O. was this focused, we'd be talking about another classic here. As it is, Yanqui U.X.O. has the distinction of being the album that pushed the band into a ten-year hiatus. That hiatus ended last year, but I'm sad to say, I won't be posting a review of  2012's 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. Godspeed You! Black Emperor's live show last year turned me off to the band so badly, I haven't been able to work up the nerve to check it out. Should I?

2002 Constellation
1. 09-15-00 16:27
2. 09-15-00 (cont.) 6:17
3. Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls 20:42
4. Motherfucker=Redeemer 21:22
5. Motherfucker=Redeemer (cont.) 10:10

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