Holy motherfucking shit. Hmmm... What do I even say at this point? I know it's kind of a cliche, but I never thought anyone would ever give a shit about my reviews when I got onto the site. Hell, at the beginning I only rated albums for fun, didn't even review them, and even when I started reviewing my English was pretty painful to watch, and the reviews weren't great to say the least. But something about writing stuff about the albums I love felt incredibly satisfying and fulfilling, so I kept going. I got better with time, met new people and gained some followers, and here we are I guess.
This site gave a new color to my life, a safe place to express my passion with no limitations. It's something I never fully felt throughout all of my life, and here everything blew up in the best way possible. I discovered my true passion in life, which is music and art. I was a little lost before, but thanks to this site and its wonderful people I found a direction. AOTY genuinely has the nicest community I've stumbled upon on the internet. Of course, not everything is perfect and even inside the purest place there will be some toxic people. But for the most part there are so many beautifully unique people with burning desires and passion all over the site, and it has been a pleasure to talk and discuss music with y'all. I can't thank every single one of you enough, for all the love and the support. I'm grateful, thank you guys.
Now, I want to give a little bit of context about my decision to review this specific album for this special event. To be honest, I was wondering what album I should review for this unbelievable milestone for quite some time now, and I always thought I'm going to review Radiohead's Ok Computer. But something happened, my passion towards this album grew significantly every time I listened to it. I was really torn apart between the two, it was like choosing between my kids, as funny as it may sound. Ok Computer is the album that got me into music, and I considered it as my favorite album for a very long time. However, LYSFLATH grew on me too much. So look, I will review this album for the milestone, and I will probably review Ok Computer too as an afterparty in a few weeks. I can't choose between them.
Ok, after all of that bullshit, we are finally here, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, one of the highest rated albums on the site by the legendary post rock band. Honestly, I first listened to this album about a year and a half ago, when I didn't really know anything about post rock or even instrumental music as a whole, it was a completely new landscape for me. After the first listen, I was actually very impressed by it. I appreciated it quite a bit, but well, I didn't feel it, it didn't move me too much. I haven't listened to it for like eight months afterwards. It always held a respectable spot in my mind, but I didn't return to it. However, a few months ago I felt the urge to come back to it, after I settled into the post rock genre, and bands like Swans and Slint were some of my favorites. So I did, and I immediately fell in love. Actually, the words "fell in love" probably don't express what I felt exactly. I felt emotions I have never felt before, so many complex and potent feelings that I didn't even know existed. It was most likely the best listening experience I've ever had. And until this day, I keep coming back to it almost every day despite its lengthy tracks and long runtime. It's safe to say that it's one of my favorite albums of all time.
So, a little bit of context about the album. This is Godspeed You Black Emperor's sophomore album, released in 2000, three years after their masterpiece of a debut, the bleak F♯ A♯ ∞, which is one of the best post rock album I've heard, so if you haven't checked it out, you should. But as much as F♯ A♯ ∞ has been praised throughout the years, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is the band's crowning achievement. You can easily find it among the top ten best albums of every music reviewing site, and in plenty of decade-end lists, as one of the greatest albums of the 2000s. It was recorded in only nine days, with the help of producer Daryl Smith, who was responsible of the mixing stages.
I don't know if this album is necessarily my "favorite album of all time", but I do know one thing. If I had to name the best album I've ever heard, with a gun against my head, and Mainstream Sellout wasn't an option, I would name this album. In my opinion, this record stretches the rock genre from one edge of the universe to the other, to enormous proportions, unbelievable ones. I can't think of too many albums that are getting close to this one in terms of sheer power and in being truly larger than life, maybe only an album like To Be Kind by Swans or even Soundtracks For The Blind are close. No other album feels like it can swallow the whole planet, like it's genuinely something larger than just multiple instruments playing simultaneously, as if you're hearing the force of nature itself speaking through your headphones.
However, the main strength of Godspeed is that despite their incredibly grand music, they always manage to connect with the listener, with his most primal emotions. With no words, only with the heart wrenching melodies, the textures of their intricate arrangements, progressive song structures and breathtaking build ups, and with a few vocal samples sprinkled throughout the album. It's like every arrangement is a metaphor to a certain emotion, or an image that evokes certain feelings if you will. And every single instrument in the dense production is playing an extremely important role in expressing that specific emotion. If it's the shimmeringly noisy guitars, the ethereal violins and cellos, the demanding drums or even the fragile glockenspiel in a few spots on the album. Everything is crucial and necessary.
I find it very interesting that guitarist Efrim Menuck has said once in an interview that the band sees their music as more punk rock than post rock. Agree with him or not, I can see where he is coming from. The amount of intensity and pure urgency that is expressed in Godspeed's music is similar to the amount of energy you can get from a very loud punk song. Not to mention the band's political massaging in their albums, also similarly to punk music. Their urgent spirit is very much present on this album, it might be their most explosive one to date. Throughout multiple passages the music almost seems violent, uncomfortably physical. I seriously can't think of another group that can be unsettlingly aggressive without saying a single word, only with the power of their instruments, and their complex dynamics.
But the album is way more than just aggressive, it conveys a wide range of complex emotions, from joy, happiness and hope, to dread, panic and paranoia. The result is a buffaloing roller coaster of feelings, a roller coaster that shows us all the good and bad in humanity, the darkness and light within ourselves, in the most jarring way possible. It's hard to look at yourself in the mirror, at your ugliest scars and memories, to face the end of the world so bluntly, therefore LYSF is far from being an easy listen even to ones who are already familiar with the post rock genre. But once you let it captivate you, and in some way surrender yourself to its power, it's more than incredibly rewarding, it's truly life changing.
Structure-wise, the project is composed of four tracks, that almost every one of them passes the 20-minute mark, and every song is divided into different parts. Each song is portraying another image in your head, another situation. Together they form the big picture behind the album, its message. With phenomenal loud-soft dynamics throughout most of the album, the songs are capturing the attention of the listener with plenty of explosive cathartic points in every track, while the subdued stripped back sections are just as engaging, being amazingly mediative and hypnotic. There is a lot to say about this album, so let's try to slowly peel back its dense layers, with a track by track review.
1. Storm: A tragic fall from heaven to earth.
We are introduced to the album with the song Storm, which is in my opinion one of the best post rock songs of all time. The first movement opens with a gentle guitar that plays a beautiful melody, accompanied by a fragile horn that sounds so hopeful, while a quiet glockenspiel is entering the mix elegantly. A beautiful violin and a cello are joining them to create a soothingly immersive arrangement that just keeps evolving and becoming more inspiring and bright as the song progresses. Finally the triumphant drums are making a phenomenal entrance, elevating the instrumentals even more, while the guitars are projecting an enormous light over everything, playing different melodies simultaneously. The arrangements are larger than life, unexplainably luminous, we are reaching a cathartic moment that feels like an ascension to heaven, but it's more than that. The band is creating an unrealistically euphoric place.
Right as the climax fades away, we are entering the second movement of the track. We are introduced to another stunning guitar lead, with delicate strings surrounding it. The delicate strings are staying at the background of the mix, while additional violins and guitars are coming in to form another hopeful arrangement. But the strings are taking over the mix, being more dramatic and immersive, while the guitars are dancing in the background to create a gorgeous whirlwind of sound. Then the drums are entering to elevate the whole mix once again to another transcendent climax that sounds just as bright and shimmery as the last one. We are witnessing a slight melody change, with fantastic dynamics between the ethereal guitars and the huge walls of larger than life strings, just to get into an even grander section of the heavenly guitar making you float in the air uncontrollably. We are in the most beautiful place imaginable.
But then something is happening, the band cuts the throat of the beautiful instrumentation, pulling us into a jarring tornado of overwhelming sounds. scratching, teeth gnashing and eerie strumming on something that sounds like a completely broken violin are all attacking you, while two layers of drum patterns are appearing from the back of the storm, one is hinting towards the darkness to come, and the other is hitting you in the face. But then everything clears, with frighteningly ominous arrangements pulling you back to earth. We fell from the euphoric place that the band has given us right back into our harsh reality. It's a jarring transformation, a traumatic one, because we all want to live in a dream. Dark guitar lines and drones and flying over you as the tribal drums are progressively getting more furious. The glockenspiel is coming back to sprinkle unsettling glimpses of light, right before every instrument is slowing down, everything is almost in slow motion like the darkness has become exhausted from itself. And then, a chilling silence.
We are entering the third movement of the song. An odd recording in Spanish is playing, but we only realize later that this is a public store notice at a minimarket. The voice of a woman, welcoming people into AM/PM, which is located beside a gas station, telling them to watch from strangers who are offering to clean their car's windows, or give them any kind of services. People who often offer these kinds of services are homeless people that are just looking for some money, but the businesses in charge are trying to get rid of them because "it can look bad to new customers". With the band's political views in mind, it can be a criticism of disgusting behaviors towards homeless people, and a criticism of the cold capitalistic system that tries to discriminate against the weak.
We can hear some eerie distorted voices as the final movement kicks in. It sounds like people are talking but the voices are so distorted to the point that you can't understand a word they're saying. An extremely melancholic piano and dreadful drones are coming in to express an immense feeling of sadness and devastation, alongside the unsettling voices in the background. The piano is so isolated and cold, making me feel defeated every time I listen to it. Right before the song ends there are several rising synths that are fading away alongside the rest of the mix, to end the song on the saddest note possible. We went from the most hopeful place imaginable, an unrealistic heaven, at the first half of the track, right back into our dystopian planet. Represented by the cruel AM/PM voice recording, and the dark, ominous, melancholic and sad arrangements of the second half. A place full of hate, fear and loneliness. The band showed us what we have done by contrasting it with a dream-like reality, so when we come back to our own reality, the sudden change in atmosphere and mood will be jarring and impactful.
2. Static: A harrowing exploration of religion.
As we left the first song shivering, in shock of what we've been through, we are continuing the experience right where we left off. A distant sound of a train getting stronger by the second, followed by uncanny drones and haunting ambient soundscapes. We are quickly surrounded by what sounds like many forms of transportation. Car horns, airport ambiance and trains. We are lost inside this dry and dusty landscape, almost out of breath by the time it ends. After this unsettling opening, the second movement begins with incredibly abrasive buzzing sounds, interrupting the bleak drones. An odd sample of a ticking time signal broadcast is being played, right before we get into the third movement.
A voice of a woman is rising from the back of the mix. Her voice is pitched down in order to darken what's coming out of her mouth. It's a preacher, we realize quickly, preaching to her believers. The woman talks of a journey to encounter god, overcome struggles and temptations, and even walking through dangerous places as she describes, in order to reach a holy life, to obtain a greater version of ourselves, a divine state of being if you will. The preacher sounds so sure of herself, so confident, yet the band is giving a whole new meaning to her words. With a crying violin, sounding unreasonably sad, a melancholically gentle guitar melody joining it, and another layer of delicate strings coming in shortly after, like the mother that's trying to comfort her crying child, the instruments are playing together right as the woman speaks. You can look at what the woman says as a speech of hope, overcoming darkness to achieve a far greater version of yourself. However, the instrumentals are almost twisting her words with the extremely sad melodies. Like everything she is saying is terribly tragic, how she is misleading the people, making them believe in something that doesn't exist, just for them to spend their lives and dedicate them to nothing, when in fact there is no hope, and there is no god. It only exists in our collective minds, that's Godspeed's massage. The woman finishes her words, and the instrumentals fade out, as we are entering the fourth movement.
A simple yet creepy guitar is playing alone, with dark layers of strings wandering beneath her, circling around to evoke a sense of terrible tension and horror. Everything cuts abruptly right as additional guitars are coming into the mix, to give the spotlight to the dramatic violin. Eerie guitar lines are making an entrance once again, alongside some terrifying keys. The guitars are screaming of pain in the background, before everything explodes into a harrowing crescendo in our face. With heavy drums, twisted and irritatingly noisy guitars, walls of strings and finally a violent horn in the middle of the chaos. The arrangements stop jarringly once again, while the same string melody stays in the mix alongside the punchy drums. They build so much tension together as a grating guitar is getting louder as the song progresses. The drums are leaving when the remaining instruments are repeating the same chord progression, becoming more and more intense. Finally everything is bursting into a dreadful and unexplainably dense climax, that sounds like the whole instrumentation is trying to chase you, as the violent horn is back, but this time it sounds like it's literally going to explode all over your ear through the headphones. A terrible sense of fear and horror holding you in a chokehold. But after a few seconds they let go of you, as we step into the next movement, after feeling like we have been on the verge of death, being physically attacked from every direction with no hope whatsoever.
A feeling of emptiness is being evoked, as unsettling industrial sounds are coming in and out of the mix, making you feel so uncomfortable and isolated. We are back to the dry and dusty landscape from the beginning of the track, but this time for six minutes. Six very long minutes of overwhelming darkness and alienation capturing you, until the very end of the song. Some say that it might be too long of a passage, but in my opinion it's appropriate with the violent experience we just went through, it feels like the exhaustion and drained feeling afterwards. After the misleading speech of the preacher, we went through the consequences of her words. The rage and sheer anger after we didn't find what we were looking for, the ferocity that is coming from one who realized that he has been lied to, that he was living inside a terrible lie. And then, the emptiness and the alienation afterwards, the emptiness that comes once you understand that you have no purpose on this planet, there is no one up there that's watching over you. It's a bleak, hateful and harrowing confrontation against god and religion.
3. Sleep: A tragic acceptance of mortality and life.
Now we've reached the second disc, to one of my favorite songs of all time, and my favorite off the album. We are heading towards the track right after the most bleak and hopeless section on the entire project, after we've been completely drained of energy and life. We are introduced to a spoken word passage of a rather old man. The man's name is Murray Ostril, and he tells us about the memories and experiences that he made on Coney Island, New York when he was just a kid. He describes the island in a moving way, a place of peace, joy and freedom, sort of a euphoric place with no worries whatsoever. "And we used to sleep on the beach here, sleep overnight. They don't do that anymore. Things changed, you see. They don't sleep anymore on the beach...", the old man is telling us about the disintegration of the island, how it's not the same as it used to be, how all of its magic has been lost forever. This theme connects to the apocalyptic themes of this album, the decay of society into monotony and boredom, how we've lost our feelings and our sympathy. The passage is supposed to evoke a sad sense of nostalgia, longing for something that will never return, something that used to be so pure and joyful.
The second movement begins. A delicate and fragile guitar melody is introduced after the spoken word section, with melancholic strings on top of it, expressing so much uneasiness and sadness. So dramatic and potent, the strings are leading the arrangements, as a screaming guitar is echoing relatively quietly in the back. The guitar is left alone once again in the mix, as the fragile drums are slowly joining it, it sounds so mediative, yet slightly unsettling. The strings are coming in, to perform a quick solo of the haunting and heartbreaking violin, before the hypnotic drums are making a mesmerizing return with the guitar. Incredibly immersive and captivating, the composition is putting you in a trance, right as the instruments are getting more damning and loud just to fade away into this hypnotic state again. Until we are finally reaching the intense cathartic point. The shouting guitars are taking over, with overwhelming waves of strings crushing over the bombastic drums. Everything sounds like it's writhing in pain, expressing a strong sense of grief and loss, the loss of innocence, crying over the heavenly island that is gone forever. It genuinely sounds like the end of the world, and it's not ending, it's unbelievably painful.
But suddenly the instrumentals are taking a shift. The bright guitar lines are bending and shivering to create an extremely emotional melody, additional guitars are coming rapidly while the drums are getting faster as the passage progresses, reaching an almost inhuman pace. The strings are finally making an entrance as everything is swirling around itself in a jarring fashion. It feels like your life is quickly passing in front of your eyes, as you watch them with tears in your eyes. It's one of the most overwhelming moments on the album, so potent and beautiful yet sad simultaneously. The guitars are starting to break, and the drums are fading out, we are left with the leftovers of this stunning explosive point, an irritating tone of a broken guitar. The third movement starts. A creepy guitar melody is crawling in, with additional guitar layers surrounding her silently. A glockenspiel is sprinkled above them elegantly, with something that sounds like an odd voice of a man behind the instruments, while the chord progression changes to a more upliftingly beautiful one, to hint upon the light incoming.
The drums are making a return unexpectedly, advancing the whole instrumentation quickly. The shimmery guitar lines are getting louder, even more hopeful, as another explosive moment starts. High walls of sunny guitars are piercing through your ear, alongside an immaculate horn melody playing beside them, that just keeps getting higher and brighter with the guitars, sounding amazingly delighted, full of hope. The climax suddenly ends, and then we are stepping into one of my favorite musical moments of all time, and undoubtedly my favorite on the album. One of the most moving melodies I've ever heard in my life is beginning to play by the violin, with the drums comforting it, and the guitars slowly getting louder behind their backs. The violin is inexplicably beautiful, it feels like accepting your biggest fears and hugging them, or accepting the death that you have experienced throughout the second movement, after they blew up your lovely island and you've seen your life passing right in front of your eyes. The arrangements get more grand and dense, the violin is now replaced by a beautiful guitar, mimicking the gorgeous melody, right as additional guitars are getting even nosier, finally evolving into MAYBE the most beautiful musical moment I've ever experienced. It sounds like twenty overwhelmingly bright guitars are forming a huge light beam that shreds through the dark skies that the album has built thus far. The most genuine and powerful expression of hope and optimism is being expressed through these heavenly guitars that are repeating the violin/guitar melody prior to this otherworldly cathartic climax, in an almost exaggerated way that feels unreal. Probably the most blissful and transcendent moment I've ever heard in music. The guitars are breaking up once again, like they truly can't continue to project this enormous light anymore. The instrumentals are slowly evaporating, as the drums are staying alone in the mix with some drones and random cello hits right before the song ends quite immediately after the stunning larger than life crescendo.
The song represents the never ending passing of time through its hypnotic repetitions throughout the first half. The sad nature of time, that keeps swallowing your best periods in life, telling you that eventually everything ends. There is some sort of a tragic surrender to our aging bodies and to mortality in the second movement. The first climax stands for the rage and wrath once we realize the tragedy that we will never experience these nostalgic memories again, and the cruel transformation of our societies into monotony and numbness. But the second climax that comes immediately after the first one, feels like surrendering into our mortal lives, the flow of life and our cold societies. While the third and final climax at the end of the track feels like a complete acceptance, understanding and embracing the cyclical nature of life. It's an introspective journey into ourselves, a deep exploration of mortality and human life, and the acceptance of it all.
4. Like Antennas To Heaven...: Hope?
We have finally reached the last song of the album, after one of the most hopeful sections of it. The track begins with a nursery rhyme, an old lullaby, sung by the lead guitarist with a harsh acoustic. He presents us the question "What'll we do with the baby?", and then proceeds to make a few suggestions, some horrible actions like "wrap him up in a tablecloth and throw him up in the old hayloft", stick a finger in his eye or give him a bottle of gin when he smiles. Nonsensical or not, the song is certainly twisted and sinister, especially with the singer who sounds completely drunk and the lo-fi recording, so dirty and disturbing. The second movement begins as the nursery rhyme is interrupted by a whirlwind of haunting drones, keys, and sound effects, similar to the one on Storm but on a smaller scale. The third movement begins after a minute with a loud glockenspiel taking over the haunting whirlwind. The glockenspiel sort of resembles mobile music, from the toys above the baby's crib, but fast paced. We can hear children's voices as the glockenspiel fades away. The children are singing a song in French, while gentle strings are coming into the mix. The singing kids alongside the shimmery glockenspiel are evoking a strong sense of nostalgia, and the stings are only emphasizing this beautiful nostalgic moment powerfully.
The fourth movement starts. Fragile strings are now finding themselves alone in the mix with some additional drones, playing so soothingly upon our nostalgic emotions. Some quiet drums can be heard in the distance, right before the famous jumpscare of the album is taking place. A sudden explosion of multiple guitar layers, thrilling drums and magnificent strings, overwhelming the listener and catching him off guard. This surprising climax always sounded to me like the burst of happiness when a baby is being born, this pure second that a new life is coming into the world. And the lead guitar does sound a bit like a baby's cry, when he leaves his mother's womb. However, with the context of the song so far, this unexpected explosiveness is probably expressing the urgent excitement of a child, with its raw and sudden nature. The climax ends rather quickly, with the band cutting it off right as it reaches its highest point.
The wind is whispering in our ears, after the raw explosion ended. A beautiful melody is slowly starting to play between all of these windy keys and synths, with the glockenspiel on top of the guitar. The violin is joining the gorgeous dynamic beautifully, creating a fantastically immersive composition. The comforting drums are finally making an entrance with ethereal guitar lines soaked in reverb, evolving the mix further. The instrumentals are building on top of each other until they reach an otherworldly crescendo of moving strings, luminous guitars and triumphant drums, all coming together into a transcendent harmony that sounds just as bright and hopeful as the last explosive point on Sleep. The band cuts it off once again, leaving only multiple strings, which sounds like tears of joy falling down your face.
Then the fifth movement begins. An incredibly calming drone is sneaking in with additional keys, blending with it as if they were only one instrument. It's very loud in the mix, washing the listener with waves of calming sounds. It feels like hearing people singing inside a church from a distance, while you sit on a sunny cloud, so blissful and meditative, making you literally float in the air. Scattered sound effects are replacing the blissful drone with bombastic synthesizers above them, as we step into the sixth and final movement of the track. The distorted synths may have been symbolizing the sound of music from a radio when the antennas are not receiving proper signal. The name of the movement is "Like Antennas To Heaven...", hence the section might represent that the antenna is being directed towards Heaven, because heaven is obviously quite far away. The synths are fading away after a minute and a half, and the song finally ends.
Now, this is probably one of the most dense songs on the album, and it can be interpreted in a few ways (like the rest of the record obviously), but...This is my review at the end of the day. So, the song begins with a sinister nursery rhyme about abusing a baby, and then progresses into a beautiful representation of nostalgia, the pureness in the excitement of a child and finally... Basically aiming towards heaven with radio antennas theoretically. It's a strong contrast, that's supposed to show us the terrible things that humanity can think of, and the disgusting things that we are capable of doing, next to the purest form of innocence and beauty in the human race. Suggesting that despite the bad things that we create, there is some good in us, and we aren't born that way. And the cherry on top, if theoretically the final movement is indeed representing antennas aimed at heaven, it means that there is a heaven. Even if not a literal one, it refers to the heaven in each and every one of us, our good characteristics and positives sides. After the brutal journey that we went through, maybe there is hope.
And that's it, that is Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. The album is definitely not a happy one, it can be unexplainably dark and dare I say depressing. But there are bright glimpses of light throughout it, some spots of hope alongside the bleak landscape of the record. The first disc is certainly darker, more tortured, while Sleep starts the second one on the same note, but then it seems like the light is taking over the overwhelming darkness, with the acceptance of our mortality and our cruel world, and the realization that there is some good in our core.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is one of the greatest pieces of music I've ever heard. Maybe the most deserving album of the title "larger than life". An impeccable masterpiece that puts a mirror right in front of our face, making us recognize our destructive nature as a race, while hinting vividly towards a more hopeful future if we face our mistakes. It's a life-changing album. If you haven't let it change your life yet, you should.
Writing this review has been a lot of fun, even if it was pretty stressful at times because I felt like I had some huge expectations from myself, and I was afraid that I can't really do justice to such a phenomenally intricate piece of music. But overall I'm satisfied with the final result, and I hope you will find it enjoyable as well. Again, thank y'all so fucking much for 2k followers, I love you all A LOT, thanks for reading. I'm going to get some rest now, bye bye :)
Least favorite: N/A