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Published: 2006/09/19
by Chris Gardner

I am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass – Yo La Tengo

Matador Records

The boys and girl of Yo La Tengo have been trying on costumes for years.
The most obvious example is their in-house stint during the yearly
fundraiser on Jersey City's WMFU. You call in, make the request, then some DJ
winds up the animatronic band or slaps the crank monkey on the ass or splits
open that fresh roll of quarters and slides one in the slot and the Yo La
Tengo jukebox springs to life, hacking out a Tengofied version of whatever
obscurity you can conjure. The genre-hoppers unite and slash through breezy
Cali-pop, bossanova, three-chord punk, art-punk noise collage, Brit-pop,
rockabilly, or whatever other style you can hurl at them. The co-opt them
all, claim them all as their own. It's an attitude that has always bled
through in their albums, the yearn to gobble up styles, and it's in no small
part why critics fawn over the Hoboken 3 like few others (1). Like all
of us, they're fanatics, obsessives, junkies constantly on the prowl for
that new sound.

As such, you can usually make a pretty good guess at the band's listening
habits based on each successive album. They take in an earful, and they put
it all back out. As junkies, they're deep into their habit — they've got
years on me. I won't pretend to pin down all their touchstones, but the
legion _ylt_ers don't quit trying. Fish around; you'll see. You can
catch them shouting "That's the Feelies! That's Harper's Bizarre! That's
!" This time though, it's different.
This time it sounds like… well… it sounds like the band's been listening
to Yo La Tengo of all things. It's a Borgesian mind-fuck, a
Malcovich-Malcovich. When you follow the James, Georgia and Ira
marionettes' strings upwards into the dark, you see more James, Georgia and
Ira marionettes, leading up to more…

The album these puppets twitch out is a beauty, a disjointed greatest hits
in a blender affair that hearkens back to the eclecticism of _I Can Hear
the Heart Beating As One_ after the comparatively monochromatic _Summer
Sun_ and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. The opener
("Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind") lets Ira freak out on the guitar
like he hasn't in years, nearly ten minutes of ripping over the
simplest of rhythm figures and shouting "Slide! Slide! Slide down the water
slide!" But then, it's as though the band's extensive back catalog is on
shuffle. "Beanbag Chair" comes galloping in on a trombone. Georgia's "I
Feel Like Going Home" simply whispers its way into the conversation over a
simple violin. You get the drowsy and (literally) rain-soaked mood piece
"Daphnia," the garage clatter of "Watch Out For Me Ronnie," the understated
beauty of McNew's euphonium-buoyed "Black Flowers," the jaunty piano bounce
of "The Weakest Part," and at last "The Story of Yo La Tango"the gigantic,
slow-building closer that threatens time and time again to "[tear] the
playhouse down."

After two (three if you count The Sounds of the Sounds of Science)
tightly focused albums with distinct sounds, this can't help but feel
like a contrarian excursion. It's a loosely connected disc with few if any
thematic or sonic constants, but it's all Yo La Tengo to be sure. Their
sound has always been a blanket wrapped around whatever find they're
exploring, and this time they huddled themselves under the wrap. The songs
are so obliquely bound that it suffers little on shuffle, and perhaps that's
the point. Perhaps it's the non-album album. There's plenty to criticize
here if we do take it as an album. It's disjointed, overlong, and either
over-ambitious or unedited. But what if "album" isn't really the plan?
There's very little to complain about song to song; there's nothing I would
cast-off given the chance. The problem, if there is one, is that it just
doesn't stick together. It feels like a big 77ish-minute long YLT mix tape. My point? This may not be Yo La Tengo's best album, but it's their best

In truth, some critics are mere apologists. They make the awkward
intentional, take the band's weaknesses and cleverly (and not so cleverly)
invert them into strengths, and generally blunder forth with some sick,
sycophantic glimmer in their eyes.

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