Revisiting Godspeed You! Black Emperor- Lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven

Every now and then, something groundbreaking occurs in the world of music and the year 2000 started with Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s avant-garde studio album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, a four-track whirlwind of emotions. The Canadian post-rock band, which originated in Montreal, Quebec in 1994, has played a pivotal role in stirring enthusiasm for the post-rock genre. Today, we will revisit their unparalleled work of art in the album. 

Being one of a kind even in the post-rock genre, which in itself is far off from the predominant commercial music scene, the instrumental album is able to convey haunting emotions in a preternatural way. The album with its unconventional production of sounds including bowed guitar and playing the instrument with screwdrivers is appreciably experimental. 

Storm, the first track of the album, starts with a straightforward melody with the layering of multiple instruments adding an immaculate tone to the overall flow of music. The opening melody only goes on to become even more articulate with the addition of strings.

The “Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, Like Antennas to Heaven…” section keeps you hooked with its repeated pattern, shorter runs of guitars and spectacular horn sounds in unison. The beginning section explodes into a yearn for freedom with the drums kicking in, subtly transitioning into the “Gathering Storm” section of the song. The melody in this portion impedes into a residue of the dramatic start of the song.

The phase has passed, the excitement of the moment has gone away and what remains is mere scraps of joy. The build-up gets apprehensive at this point, perfectly portraying the inability to harken back to the uplifting climax in the earlier section of the song. Granted that the build-up finally outbursts into a new climax, it is different from what we heard before.

The scales become spookier and after a while, the piece entirely slows down leaving no clue of what’s coming in the next section. “‘Welcome to Arco AM/PM…’ [L.A.X.; 5/14/00]” resembles the scenario of despondency after the chaos, a second residue if you will. “Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way” portrays the situation of a distressed mini-market. 

Godspeed does an awe-inspiring job at painting pictures in the listeners’ minds. The song (Static) that I’m speaking of is purificatory and in a sense, therapeutic. The opening section “Terrible Canyons of Static” culminates in dissonance by intertwining suspended synth sound with train horns.

The theme of painting a picture in the listener’s mind continues in this track. “Atomic Clock.” features the broadcast of A sample of the US-run WWV station in Fort Collins which announces the time at every minute. “Chart #3” is where things start to penetrate deeper into the mind by setting the theme of existential inquisitiveness.

The violins and bassy synth sounds resonate with the matter in hand of dying to the past- the erasure of ego with the perception of truth. The section is followed by “World Police and Friendly Fire” which starts with an eerie bassline, which acts as the primary melody for the part, accompanied by violins and resonators with an eastern touch.

The song choreographs for a heavy, distorted, and quick-tempo trance with shaky and suspended guitar notes leading to a cathartic outburst of energy which encompasses the ego burning up.

They don’t sleep anymore on the beach

With the sample recording of an old man revisiting the memories of vacationing on Coney Island, Sleep will make you instantly give in to nostalgia with its lulling guitar intro. With playing the guitars with screwdrivers being brilliant as it is, the violins that go with it add more depth and substance to the song. The descending chord progressions chunking up into unvarying phrases make for deep meditation.

This is the signature style of the band which they have incorporated into their other songs as well; they repeat the patterns but keep on adding layers making the music more and more impactful. In any musical piece, each instrument has a representation of the song. The surreal drum playing at the end of Monheim can’t be appreciated enough for the job it has done in bringing more out of the song.

The beginning of “Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III.” / “3rd Part” starts with two adjacent guitar notes panned in one ear overlayed with reverbed guitars panned on the other ear. These guitars combined with high-pitched bells undergo several chord changes for the drums to join in with an explosion of emotions. The ending of the song is breathtakingly beautiful with heartwarming melodies played with warmer guitar tones. However, the nostalgia hits hard when the drums with strings take over, stealing the spotlight at the end.

The album ends with the song Antennas to heaven featuring Mike Moya, one of the founding members of the band (left the band in 1998 and joined the reunion in 2010) singing an old lullaby from the Appalachian Mountains and dating back to at least 1917.

Godspeed’s imaginative songwriting is pretty evident in the outro of the album I’d say. It ends with the sounds of antennas picking up the frequencies of heaven after finally pointing towards it. 

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Sandesh K.C
A musician in the making specializing in songwriting and musical composition. Recent Engineering graduate and music writer trying best to keep the spark for my passion alive.
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