Look, we all know the memes, and yeah, we’ve had a good chuckle or two about them, but for this article, I kindly ask you to leave them at the door. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is an absolute benchmark in the realms of post-rock and an incredible record to boot, further establishing Godspeed You! Black Emperor as a revolutionary (in more than one sense of the word) force in the music industry. It’s been almost 22 years since this masterpiece saw release, so let’s put it back into the spotlight for a little bit, shall we?
Listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor for the first time back in early 2015 for me felt like an awakening. Never before had I explored the wildly captivating world of post-rock music and still haven’t heard such music being performed in such a gritty and interesting way. Godspeed therefore always felt like the best reference point for post-rock music. Beginning with the notably acclaimed F# A# ∞, I soon made my way through the band’s expansive discography, and whilst the former record I mentioned may always have a place as one of my favourite albums of all time, nothing truly prepared me for the momentous and musical brilliance of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven.
Comprised of four mesmerising songs (or movements), Lift Your Skinny Fists is like a feverish gaze into a hypnotic instrumental landscape. Its massive climactic song structures and orchestral sound could transcend musical boundaries, pushing its sonic limits to create stunningly beautiful and dramatically timed moments. The first track, “Storm”, is an immense climactic battle of dominant brass and string arrangements, embracive rhythmic fills and ethereal-sounding ambient textures that lift you into a mystical realm of sonic awe and beauty. Over 22 and a half minutes in length, this first movement feels like an eternity, which allows you to step outside of yourself and become enmeshed in the encompassing wall of otherworldly sound.
“Static” produces a somewhat more intimate and poetic feel compared to its predecessor, employing voice samples and spoken word passages that depict various radio conduits and satellite communication signals, from the distorted preacher ramblings about ego-death to the mechanical chimes accompanied by the wailing drones and noise-plagued soundscapes, which offer a tinge of unfound beauty within a sea of terror and anxiety. “Sleep” sends you into a trance-like state of feeling. Your surroundings are completely abandoned for the sheer volume of noise and the dramatic building between sections that feel like a lifetime of wondering from a warm, euphoric atmosphere to the darker depths of fear and uncertainty.
Finally, “Antennas to Heaven” becomes the powerful and emotional climax to this wonderful album. It creates such an earthy and nostalgic experience that evokes so much energy and mystic in such a passionate way, through the dreamlike ambient sequences; the fuzzy, reminiscent voice samples; and the organic orchestral instrumentation that drones on to its own transcendent beat, a truly astounding way to conclude the record.
The musical brilliance aside, there’s also something special that has allowed so many people to connect with this critically acclaimed album. The record was released on October 9th 2000, the turn of a new millennium, which oversaw the 2000 US presidential election and a great period of societal optimism and disillusionment amidst post-Cold War uncertainty. Although cryptic in its sonic nature, Lift Your Skinny Fists confronts these changes that has seen the shift in social values spurred by the inequality between an increasingly corrupt government, who favours the rich, and those in poor circumstances on the brink of degradation. GY!BE channel their DIY Canadian punk roots to convey this message through an abstract symbolic musical language; they evoke a sense of hopelessness and anxiety that comes with the state of the new world.
These cryptic messages are further articulated through the album’s inner sleeve art (illustrated by artist William Schaff) depicting the cynicism and power struggles implemented by corruption and late capitalism. To tell it like it is, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven is a masterpiece in its entirety, and the more one listens, the more they are invited into the dark, symbolic corners of our world that still hold relevance today.
There are some albums that stick in the memory for life, those albums that shape your interest in music for years to come (even if you don’t listen to them as much as you would have in the past). For me, there are probably a small handful that stick out. Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows had me searching for music with a little more bite, whilst The Album Leaf’s Twentytwofourteen took me down a path of quiet introspection. There were others along the way like Radiohead (shoutout to Kid A) and older stuff that filtered in, like most Rush albums I came across.
Somewhere in the middle of all this sits one of my first introductions to the world of post-rock, which ended up consuming the majority of my late teens and college life. Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven was a little bit of a game changer for me in that regard. Although it wasn’t my first introduction to Godspeed You! Black Emperor (the wonder track that is “Blaise Bailey Finnegan III” from Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada takes that title), I still vividly remember my first listen. “BBFIII” had hit me fairly hard, its crescendos and orchestral-like delivery opening a new world to me – I wanted to dive in as much as I could.
Off I went to HMV to pick up a copy of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven on the recommendation of a friend, and how glad I was that I did. Around fifteen years after its release, the noise of Godspeed You! Black Emperor had me hooked. Having assumed French horns and strings were to be kept in their own little compartment in classical music, their inclusion alongside the more conventional band instrumentation to build tension and drama in this, my first introduction to crescendocore, seemed like musical perfection. Whilst I had dipped my feet into the world of instrumental music by this stage, I didn’t anticipate being just as moved by a few band members as I might be by a lyric or a well-delivered vocal line. Reading it now it sounds so simple, but as a fairly closed listener at this stage, it was massive.
You might be surprised that I’ve got this far and haven’t mentioned a single track name, but in 2022, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is less of an album to me and more of a memory. Throughout the years there have been many albums that have brought back memories of my first introductions to GY!BE, and there is a lot of better music out there. That’s not to say it’s still not a great album, of course it is, but the impact it had on me as a listener and the doors it opened means more than the four tracks that lie within.
Ah, yes. Let’s lift them, shall we? The snob album. Part of me was very eager to write about Godspeed‘s magnum opus – part of me is on the fence, because it’s the epitome of snobism in the music world. It’s the Unknown Pleasures of post-rock. But damn, if it isn’t a fantastic album.
The world of Godspeed You! Black Emperor can be tough to enter. While playing with your usual post-rock tropes here and there (and in part being responsible for creating said tropes in the first place), their music was always a bit bulky and inaccessible here and there. A lot of wild crescendo-ing, explosions in the dark sky (see what I did there?) and fuzzy, gloomy soundscapes. To grab GY!BE, one has to experience them – and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is the prime gateway into their world. Released roughly 22 years ago, this album lost nothing of its beauty, while being the butt of your occasional post-rock meme. Memes are the sincerest form of admiration, right?
For me, the popularity of Antennas as one of the go-to records of the genre, combined with the general pretentiousness GY!BE is associated with, always did a disservice to the album. When the first epic conclusion kicks in on “Storm” around the 10-minute mark, you know how much post-rock owns to this record, and you realize how many bands in the genre are just trying and failing to achieve what this album did all those years ago.
The rough and vibrant production of the drums, always a bit gritty and blurred, and the beautiful, elegant melodies, constantly battling and benefiting with the grabbing moments of noise – I haven’t listened to that album in a while, and I had to pause writing my thoughts down a couple of times to close my eyes and welcome the greatness, washing over me, dissolving me. I forgot about the amount of immersion Antennas has, that it’s not about the perfect execution of genre tropes. It’s about the choice of being uncomfortable, compelling, challenging. Post-rock is often compliant and formulaic – making it easy to enjoy, but it fades into the background rather quickly. GY!BE demand your attention – and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven rewards you for it.
I am fairly new to the GY!BE faction, meaning it’s been only measly two or three years since I first heard them. I had heard about them, however, just never dipped my toes into their artistically lush and singular waters for whatever reasons. I can vividly remember going for my afternoon stroll and randomly coming across their name, and deciding to give it a go. One minute into “The Dead Flag Blues” and I was hooked for good.
I’ve since explored the act’s sonic nooks countless times, with that moment of pure discovery forever imprinted on my memory. I’m not one to rank any artist’s doings or otherwise give them numerical values, though for obvious reasons my main focus relied on F# A# ∞ for the longest time. I kept paying attention to people posting about the band and mentioning them here and there on whatever occasions, and noticed that their second album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven basked in particular glory and noteworthiness, and rightfully so – I just hadn’t fully grasped it yet.
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven is a definitive cornerstone in shaping up the entire genre of post-rock and its various subgenres, and deserves all the praise directed towards its astonishing barrage of exhilarating and emotive sounds within the past two decades. The genre itself is known for lacking boundaries while still eloquently tying every possible major leaning and trifling nuance neatly together, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor has taken themselves to a level where their peers are truly few and far between. With this band and their immaculate discography, one could make a solid point about whether or not there’s really someone else as influential and holistic as they are. I know that particular can of worms contains but an endless debate of opinions and he-said-she-said-fuck-you’s, so Iet’s not get caught up in that, darling.
From the opening swells of ”Storm” into the closing echoes of ”Like Antennas to Heaven…”, the album is a masterclass in musical fluency and cinematic storytelling. Earlier on I’ve talked about how the word ’cinematic’ is often misused depending on the context, as the term has a tendency to reduce the music from an all-encompassing experience into a mere soundtrack, but in GY!BE’s case that notion is warranted. They are not a soundtrack to anything, but paint such vivid imagery with aural means that the lack of actual visual side is nonexistent in importance. GY!BE creates worlds that never were out of thin air, and that is, simply put, majestic.
As to which album I prefer or revisit the most doesn’t matter in the slightest. I keep realising how what I’ve said so far could be addressed to any of their formative records and they’d each ring true (apart from the titles, duh). All in all, I guess the band’s existence has such weight and value that they transcend the boundaries of single albums, and I know you understand what I mean. If you don’t, just listen to them and you will.