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

Album. Released 4 November 2002.  

BBC Review

Long awaited full length from agitprop minimalist rock collective GYBE.

Peter Marsh 2002

It's odd but somehow comforting that your local friendly Megastore is likely to have copies of this album nestling up against the glut of pre-Xmas Greatest Hits compilations from tired old corporate rockers. GYBE are about as anti-corporate as you can get; the back cover has a handy diagram tracing the links between major media conglomerates like BMG, Sony and Time Warner and the manufacture of U.S. weaponry, while the innersleeve suggests the purchaser avoids giving money to 'predatory retailers and superstores'. Pity that's not on the outside cover, but still GYBE are aware of the game they have to play to get their music heard.

GYBE's all instrumental approach avoids the pitfalls of dull politico-rock, realising that the frame around their music is the place where some kind of dialectic with their audience is likely to happen. The two part "09-15-00" takes on a different significance when the story around its title is revealed (it's a reference to a major incursion into Palestine by the Israeli Army); then the music becomes invisible soundtrack, evoking shaky handheld DV footage of petrol bombs, gutted buildings, tanks rolling through streets. Though GYBE (literally) wear their political sympathies on their sleeves, the music itself has an ambiguous yet important role to play; an unmediated, emotional response to the uncertainties of the early 21st century. (Use it as a soundtrack to Newsnight for best results).

Despite Steve Albini's reductionistpresence at the controls, the sound is still big; electric guitars, string quartet and drums engage each other in a kind of stretched, stripped prog rock that unwinds itself slowly. Insistent ostinati are woven through with mournful melodic lines, building to skullcrunch intensity and falling away again. If Stravinsky was still around, he'd be a fan.

Though GYBE's amped up minimalism is often as dark as pitch, there are episodes of beauty and even hope (as in the last few minutes of the first part of "Motherf***er= Redeemer"). But for the most part the music is taut, suffused with a ragged but determined power that has few equals among their contemporaries. There's none of the spoken narrative and location recordings of previous releases, which is a shame, but Godspeed have moved on to new pastures. Superb.

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