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

I like to say that I’ve been trying to spread the gospel according to Godspeed You Black Emperor! for the last three years: students, colleagues, girlfriends, and family members have all heard me give witness to the nine-piece apocalyptic post-rock juggernaut from Montreal. But the truth is that the language of Godspeed’s testimony is not exactly the language of the gospels: rather than a history of redemption, we are only given a glimpse of the potential for redemption.

Such is the case with GYBE!’s latest offering, Yanqui U.X.O. Over the course of 75 minutes and three sprawling compositions, we are shown more of the bleak landscape surveyed in Godspeed’s three previous works (notably 2000’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven)—a wasteland where ‘post-colonial imperialism is international police state is multinational corporate oligarchy,’ to quote the release notes.

However, one gets the feeling that the first two years of the millenium have given the anguish more time to dig its roots in. While earlier works gave a disembodied voice to the paranoia and pain—through the taped words of preachers and street poets—this voice is now silent. Instead, the dark, swelling waves of sound are left to speak for themselves. And speak they do, in imposing tones which recall everything from the psychotic squall of live versions of ‘Careful with That Axe, Eugene’ from long-forgotten Pink Floyd bootlegs to the gentle denoument of Gorecki’s Third Symphony.

As reference points like these perhaps suggest, Yanqui U.X.O. is not light entertainment. But is not monotonously dreary, either: its bleak vision remains untainted by the cynicism of the world it depicts. In a much different context, Theodor Adorno noted that ‘the only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.’ Avoiding cheap, easily-marketed nihilism, it is this philosophy which Yanqui U.X.O. manages to adopt. As much as they don’t want you to forget how utterly fucked up things are, Godspeed You Black Emperor! never allows the possibility of beauty to fade from view as a critical beacon.

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