Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

"Here to Fall" mp3

Plenty of convoluted career-spanning assessments will be thrown around for Yo La Tengo’s 16th release, celebrating their longevity as one of the few remaining bands from the 80’s indie-rock aristocracy. This is only inevitable for this month’s release, Popular Songs, as even this reviewer’s age barely matches their tenure as a band. Such was the same when Sonic Youth released their latest, and such will be the same when the Flaming Lips bring out their next batch.

But far from some beatnik-romanced no-wave haunt-fest, or some sunshine acid-tinged psychedelic punk trip (as the formerly mentioned are respectively pinned), Yo La Tengo have always kept their noses clean and their feet moving – hopping from three to four different genres within the start-and-stop-time of every album. They grace a hazy drug-rock daydream (“Here to Fall”) that swells with stately strings, they genuinely capture the driving chug and shimmy of so many lo-fi college rockers aiming their fuzz-rock sludge so ambitiously towards the wavy hooks of power-pop (“Nothing to Hide”), a soulful little aerodynamic dance-n-strut tune, (“Periodically Triple or Double”) sounds so delicate or abiding that it might be playing from a neighbors radio upon the stoop of sardine’d homes in a paved urban jungle on a dying summer day, cutting away for a staticy crackle that distracts you long enough for singer Ira Kaplan to sidewind into one of his characteristic instrumental freakouts that epitomize graceful noise. This grooving trip at the halfway point sees the trio lean into one of their unabashed send-up songs, like “Little Honda” blew a kiss to driving surf tunes or “Watch Out For Me Ronnie” was a jittery juke towards late 50’s hectic rock, “Periodically” pushes them into a bass line that mirrors the heartwarming chromatics of the opening of Motown jam “Sugary Pie Honey Bunch,” bringing those delightful strings back in to provide wings for the nerdy lovebirds of Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley.

Known for their loungey lullabies that feel like the come-down lull back stage or the perfect night cap under the stars (fleshed out here with “I’m On My Way”) or for extensive jaunts that either greet or surpass the ten minute mark riding sturdy and consistently pleasing bass lines while Kaplan flexes his guitar scorching penchant, (“And The Glitter Is Gone”), the Hoboken NJ trio always had an ear for pop that wasn’t so easily defined as their similarly-long-lasting counterparts. On 2006’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, the band locked into some impressive presentations that were crisp, clean, danceable (“Mr. Tough”) or followed a nice twangy folk style (“The Weakest Part”). The entirety of side one of Popular songs could be played on the radio and have everyone fall in love with it – but whatever grimy sort of punk or avant-pop leanings they may have exerted in previous more ostentatious outings, is stripped away for a subtle, aerodynamic pop sound led by pianos and strings. Side two, however, is where they get back to the subtly mind-expanding atmospheric rock, (the odyssey-like “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven”), as grand as outer space itself, but still cozy enough to settle into anyone’s lamplit bedroom.

What are we all supposed to say? Yo La Tengo do it again? Ask yourself what ‘it’ is, and how that ‘it’ may be specific to Yo La Tengo. Few who find them walk away not feeling some enamored.

No comments: