By Brynn Utela/ KUGS Development Director
Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are the husband and wife duo that make up Yo La Tengo, and their love for music is hard to match. By comparison, most indie bands seem to try too damn hard, more concerned with specific sounds and image; too self conscious to take the bold leaps that Yo La Tengo dives into.
Named after the call Venezuelan shortstop Elio Chacon would make as he ran for a catch during his stint with the New York Mets in 1962, Yo La Tengo named their latest album after a paraphrased quote by NBA player, Tim Thomas. Called I am Not Afraid of You and I will Beat Your Ass, the album has renewed a frazzled love in the hearts of fans around the world.
Yo La Tengo’s last release, Summer Sun, was a more distilled sound, in a less playful mindset. Sweet and ambient, one got the feeling that Summer Sun was reminiscent of things done before, but with I am Not Afraid of You, the band busts out of their suspected mold by exploring every field in their continually expanding repertoire, continuing their genre jumping, ground breaking exercises in experimentation.
The first track is an epic gravitational pull into the land of Yo La Tengo. Titled “Pass the Hatchet, I think I’m Goodkind,” the track is not for the faint of heart, or for the impatient. The rhythm is pounding, the distortion is cranked up, and the eighties guitar solos eventually drift into Sonic Youth style feedback. At over ten minutes long, it takes almost three minutes to hear Ira’s first vocals, which appear intermittently throughout the rest of the psychedelic song.
For a succinct pop song, just skip to the second track. If you aren’t acquainted with the musical schizophrenia of Yo La Tengo at their greatest, you may even be confused as to whether you are listening to the same band. Clocking in at 2:15, “Beanbag Chair” is a musical about-face, opening with jaunty piano and a tasteful horns that keep the song simultaneously lively and mellow. Syrupy sweet vocals beg a head bob.
“I Feel Like Going Home” will satisfy any craving for the melancholy, as Georgia’s pretty vocals and the accompanying strings beg for a little solitude. “Mr. Tough” comes with horns, piano, falsetto vocals and a persistent cowbell, a soul throwback that will make your feet wiggle like Beck’s entire Midnite Vultures album.
Need to drift off to sleep? Maybe you should cozy up with “Black Flowers”, a sweet song, reminding us we “can never sleep too long.” The “Race is On Again” has as a familiar Beatles guitar riff repeated, and something in Georgia’s voice suggests Nico of the Velvet Underground, with her limited range and gentle intensity. For similar subtle vocals and lovely melody, check out “The Weakest Part,” and bounce along to the bubbly piano and playful guitar soloing.
The “Room Got Heavy” incorporates organ and bongos along with Yo La Tengo signature fuzz distortion, and tender croons give in to passionate swells of instrumentation. “Watch Out for Me Ronny” is a dance number straight out of the fifties, and its recording quality evokes the same time period.
Yo La Tengo isn’t afraid to stretch a listener’s expectations, infusing varied emotion with wide-ranging orchestration. Diverse tastes have converged with twenty-two years of experience as lovers making music and the production of the album is simple, but not overly minimal. In an hour and a quarter of music in 15 tracks, every listener will find something to love in the musical mastery of Yo La Tengo.