Wednesday, November 4, 2009

YO LA TENGO Popular Songs - LP

Yo La Tengo Popular Songs
2009, Matador Records
8 out of 10

For over 20 years, 12 albums and countless singles, You La Tengo have been churning-out more wonderfully heart-felt bedroom waltzes than a rock critic could shake an adoring pen at. And while it's unfair that this Hoboken, New Jersey trio hasn't received the same adoration and appreciation lavished upon less talented acts (Cough! The Killers. Cough!), we "cult followers" of the band have been able to secret the their tunes away, keeping them all to ourselves.

Popular Songs finds Tengo'ers Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew back on familiar, soft-focus ground after 2006's adventurous I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass. That is to say, really, that the band has returned to it's roots, as they were; introspective songs that feel like a warm blanket made just for you. This is not to say that the curiosity that produced ...Beat Your Ass has left the building. No, not at all. If anything, that album helped Yo La Tengo expand their reach with Popular Songs, and allowed them to spread their wingspan a lot more. Bedroom rock, if the bedroom were a warehouse, say.

"Here To Fall" opens the album with a monsoon of strings, Hammond Organ and deep bass, as if to mark it's territory on your turntable. This is followed immediately by the Mama's and Papa's-esque "Avalon Or Someone Very Similar", and it's here where Yo La Tengo's intentions become quite clear: they have swells of brilliant harmonies and they aren't going to hesitate to use them one bit. In fact, it's as if the band has taken everything they've learned over the years and condensed all of that knowledge into one album.

Take "All Your Secrets" for example; your tried and true YLT road song that hums like a warm breeze on your cheek. Or "By Two's", which finds Hubley whispering plaintively over midnight-hour instrumentation that sounds as if it's weeping. And "Nothing To Hide", a chug-chug rocker that has become de rigeur since Painful. There's even two - count 'em two! - songs that clock-n over the 10 minute mark ("The Fireside" and "All the Glitter Is Gone"). Now, if this sounds like a complaint, as if I was saying each Yo La Tengo Album has seemingly become predictable, well ...it's not, but I am.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. And "predictable" is a bit loaded. Rather, let's say, "consistent". Yes, Yo La Tengo's albums have become consistent. The band writes great songs and nowhere is that more obvious that here on Popular Songs. And honestly what's wrong with listening to something that has almost come to be expected?

Popular Songs marks yet another cobblestone in the subtlely inclined road that Yo La Tengo finds themselves leisurely ascending. In a time when music seems so cold, so anonymous, so mediocre, and so overcrowded, it's great to hear a familiar face. Hello, old friend. Let's hear some of those popular songs you've been playing.


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