Whenever I meet new people and introduce them to music they haven't heard before, I try to go back and remember what it was like for me to hear it for the first time. These memories rarely stick for me at 29, since I tend to get albums in batches and thus don't have those meaningful, singular experiences with music as often as I used to. So, while I can remember the first time I heard Sgt. Pepper's (waiting in my parents' car during a family post-Christmas shopping trip, and continuing on the ride home), I can't bring back anything specific about I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, in spite of it being one of the best albums of the 90s and one of my personal favorites, too. It's as if it was always there playing in the background during my life, even in, say, 1988 as I discovered Nintendo and Ninja Turtles.
Yo La Tengo was a similar—if I may borrow some Turtles parlance—radical discovery for me circa 2001, when I borrowed And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out from the local library based on a glowing review I'd read somewhere online. It took me awhile to come around to it, and in retrospect, I can see why. I just wasn't into such mellow, druggy music back then, and it's not terribly representative of the band's usual sound, which is more immediate and energetic. But I digress.
Back to I Can Hear The Heart..., which is the opposite of And Then Nothing... because it is the most representative Yo La Tengo album. By which I mean, it has some of everything the band had done well up to that point...and it was the initial showcase of the (at the time) new Yo La Tengo style, with their ability to slip into different musical genres/moods over the course of a long album while still keeping it unified and well-paced, somehow.
Setting aside the obvious classic of 'Autumn Sweater', the album is more about the overall flow from song to song than it is about individual moments. Noise pop tracks like 'Sugarcube' and 'Deeper Into Movies' would fit comfortably on Painful or Electr-O-Pura and prove the band still had the Velvet Underground in their bones. Meanwhile, there's also a smorgasbord of other styles to sample: the narcoleptic/nocturnal 'Green Arrow', mellow countrified pop of 'One PM Again', samba/Brazilian vocal pop of 'Center Of Gravity', the lengthy psychedelic noise/drone 'Spec Bebop', and the introductory instrumental 'Return To Hot Chicken', which sets the mood perfectly. Scattered in there are underrated gems like bassist James McNew's 'Stockholm Syndrome' and a Jesus And Mary Chain inspired rampage through 'Little Honda' by the Beach Boys.
I suppose this brings me to my opening, about what it's like listening to this album for the first time. Well, the best way I could put it to someone else is that it's like hearing one of the most underrated indie bands of the 90s continuously switch styles over 68 minutes, all while producing a distinctive set of songs that are never less than great and sometimes more than classic.