Stuff Like That There Is Out 28th August Via Matador Records.
Doing a review for a cover album requires more work than most; one has not only to listen to the album, but also reexamine the original tracks and triangulate the magnitude and nature of the interpretive changes that have been made. Moreover, this is third cover album Yo La Tengo has made, the first two being 1990’s Fakebook and Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics from 2006. There’s even their gag cover album, Fuckbook, released under the name Condo Fucks. At last count, they’ve recorded over 100 versions of other musicians’ work, which nearly amounts to a career in itself. On Stuff Like That There, they’ve bent the Mobius strip of postmodern self-reference back upon itself and decided to cover themselves.
Granted, this album boasts two new recordings, but the endeavor feels far more like a 25th anniversary celebration of Fakebook, which also featured a mixture of old and new. But this isn’t history repeating itself. On its own, if I weren’t familiar with any of the tracks on this album, I might mistake it for a fully original YTL release. The Hoboken trio have always possessed an incomparable ability to evoke the quixotic pursuit of an unrecoverable past. Only this band could manage to make Hank Williams “I’m So Loneseome I Could I Cry” or The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” sound sadder.
Those are the most easily recognized songs on the album, and I’ll admit that they’re two of the three I was able to identify from the ten covers that comprise this effort. This shouldn’t be a surprise for fans, though, as Yo La Tengo has unearthed sleeper classics from everyone from Rex Garvin to Brian Eno. Not that they’ve ever been afraid of popularity, hitting up The Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop with the same aplomb as Daniel Johnston and Huey Smith.
This album lacks both the exuberance of Murders the Classics and the whimsy of Fakebook. It isn’t quite somber, but it is subdued. The instrumentation has changed almost imperceptibly. Ira Kaplan is on acoustic, necessitating a degree of restraint I couldn’t have conceived fifteen years ago. I once saw the man guitar-fuck an amplifier at the 9:30 Club in DC, generating a tsunami of feedback like a Fender powered weather system. James McNew has moved to an upright bass, a change that shifts the substrata of their material in a primally satisfying way. Meanwhile, Georgia Hubley’s voice never fails to sound like nostalgia itself.
Below is a complete track list, so listeners can conduct the sonic experiment this album demands in the comfort of their own homes. This is probably an album for completists, or wistful fans of their 90s heyday, but it stands up in its own right.
A1: My Heart’s Not in It (Darlene McCrea)
A3: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)
A4: All Your Secrets (remake of track from Popular Songs)
A5: The Ballad of Red Buckets (remake of track from Electr-o-pura)
A6: Friday I’m in Love (The Cure)
A7: Before We Stopped to Think (Great Plains)
B1: Butchie’s Tune (The Lovin’ Spoonful)
B2: Automatic Doom (Special Pillow)
B4: I Can Feel the Ice Melting (The Parliaments)
B5: Naples (Antietam)
B6: Deeper Into Movies (remake of track from I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One)
B7: Somebody’s in Love (The Cosmic Rays with Le Sun Ra and Arkestra)
Yo La Tengo will be on tour soon. Check them out at:
Thu 15 Oct 2015 – Ireland – Dublin – National Concert Hall
Fri 16 Oct 2015 – UK – Glasgow – The Garage
Sun 18 Oct 2015 – UK – Bristol – Colston Hall
Mon 19 Oct 2015 – UK – Coventry – Warwick Arts Centre
Tue 20 Oct 2015 – UK – London – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
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