US - New Jersey - Full Moon 123 - 10/07/06
Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
Yay! I love Yo La Tengo again. After the grave disappointment of Summer Sun, I feared that future Yo La Tengo releases would never recapture the magic of their best albums, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science. While I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of those awesome albums, it certainly wins the longest title award, and that's saying something for Yo La Tengo. It's a pretty good album too.
Opener "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" is a welcome return for the ferocious axe-wielding side of Ira, as he lays down dense webs of spidery noise over the top of a typically excellent bassline and drum pattern from James and Georgia. The track meanders along for about ten minutes, and you get the shivers: could the Yo La Tengo of old be back to beat our ass with some indie-rock genius?
No! They're going to try a dozen different kinds of pop along the way. But that's cool, especially when the pop is this immediate and catchy, like "Beanbag Chair". While Summer Sun's jazzy jams felt self-conscious and lacking in substance, the majority of the songs on IANAOYAIWBYA (even the acronym is long!) are pithy and fun, with plenty of hooks to keep you coming back for more, shamelessly stealing from Byrdsian folk-pop, Motown, doo-wop and rock 'n' roll along the way.
However, for me, it's the longer songs that really demonstrate Yo La Tengo's continuing greatness. While their stylistic magpie act is audacious and charming, they really sound like a unique band when they stretch themselves and venture into new territory. The key track arrives at around the midway point of the album: "Daphnia". Built around a fragile acoustic guitar figure, and embellished with piano and electric guitar, this loose, exploratory piece takes up from where And Then Nothing... left off, but without any vocals to distract from the delicious instrumental interplay.
"The Story of Yo La Tengo" closes the album where it started, with the band letting loose a guitar shitstorm, jamming away into the night. This feels like an album I will enjoy returning to time and again. For now, the longer, looser songs have got me hooked, and the shorter poppier songs are distracting filler. Given time, as I spend more time with Ira, Georgia and James, their obvious love for music of all varieties will no doubt persuade me to the charms of the other songs.
And that's one of the great things about Yo La Tengo: they make music that you want to spend time with, and get to know well, despite the faults. This new album may be a grab bag of musical styles, but that's part of its charm. Get stuck in.
Copyright © 2006 Tim Clarke