Sunday, June 21, 2009

Yo La Tengo- I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Though I love I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, Yo La Tengo's other verbosely titled album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, has always held my heart in its hands. The dreamy, surreal atmosphere of it makes for perfect summer evening listening yet the album is also sure to get in at least a little of Yo La Tengo's patented noisy side with the brilliant and brilliantly placed 'Cherry Chapstick.' Yet 2003's Summer Sun mostly saw the band continue the strand of And Then Nothing... while eliminating any but the barest traces of distortion. So when the band released I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, it felt like a signal to fans that they were going for that I Can Hear The Heart... sound, both albums with long titles and a lot of stylistic variety but always an undercurrent of indie rock and noise pop.

Well, this 2006 album is bald faced sequel to that album. It's an inferior sequel, sure, but it's still good. Actually, taken on its own merits I Am Not Afraid... is an excellent album, and was one of 2006's best, but compared to Yo La Tengo's ever growing discography, it comes off as a bit of a regression. Certain songs recall previous Yo La Tengo classics and the entire album feels like it's paced and patterned after I Can Hear The Heart... So assuming you want more of that 1997 classic, and any music fan should, this is a must hear. The reason I withhold a more ringing endorsement is that, much like Radiohead's Amnesiac in comparison to Kid A, here are two albums that feel of a piece yet have enough different songs and directions to be equally fascinating. Ultimately it'll probably come down to personal preference and/or which one you heard first. Who knows.

I love the way the album is bookended by long squalors of krautrock-drone-beat-meets-noise-pop ('Pass The Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodking') and a psychedelic, self referential jam ('The Story Of Yo La Tango'), I do, but it's the songs in between that offer the most surprise and delight. 'Mr. Tough' is sung in a falsetto voice with a jaunty piano melody; James McNew, the band's secret weapon/underutilized vocalist, offers the chamber/orchestral pop ballad 'Black Flowers'; the tongue in cheek 'Watch Out For Me Ronnie' takes the band into full punk rock territory and has fun along the way. Yet in the midst of these highlights are songs that, as said before, merely recall other Yo La Tengo songs without adding anything. Or are sub par. 'Daphnia' revisits the same ambient instrumental territory as 'Green Arrow' from I Can Hear The Heart... but takes twice as long to have the same effect. 'The Race Is On Again' is a mid-tempo mellow number that reminds me of something off of And Then Nothing... but isn't languid/dreamy enough and, well, damned M.O.R. And 'Song For Mahlia' is much too pleasant for its own good, another song that reminds me of And Then Nothing... but wouldn't fit in with the special atmosphere and finesse of that album.

Is it a sin for a band to be content with making music that sounds like them?? This may seem like a pointless question, but I think you know what I mean. I'm running into a similar problem with the new Wilco album, actually. Wilco (The Album) sounds like Wilco; most of its songs remind me of other Wilco songs. I end up liking the album when I listen to it because I don't feel particularly strong about it either way. I guess the same can be said for I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass.

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