Yo La Tengo
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass Matador Records by Keith Boyd 10.13.06
Besides having one of the best album titles I have heard in a long time, Yo La Tengo have given us another slab of their perfected hypno-pop magic.
They’ve been at it so long and have been so consistantly good that it is easy to take them for granted. A look back through their huge catalogue of releases, however, is all it takes to see them for the wonder that they are. Since 1984, they’ve been honing their Velvet’s meets Pet Sounds atmospherics and along the way have released wonderful collections of cover songs and an occasional masterpiece such as 1997’s “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One.”
It’s this long-view approach to their music and musical identity that lends the relaxed atmosphere to their albums. Perhaps relaxed isn’t the right word. There is ample tension and sonic anguish on many of their songs. So while it’s not a relaxed sound they are producing, there is an element that comes across of people willing to take their time to get something right.
The closeness of the unit (a married couple and friend) may have something to do with it, but that’s not everything. Longish tracks such as “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” begin with a hypnotic bass throb and simple drum beat. Slowly the whole thing becomes an upswelling of guitar runs, long sustained notes, and thick distortion. This kind of transformation can’t happen in a rushed-up pop single format. It takes a certain mindset to guide that kind of alchemy, and it’s exactly that kind of mindset that permeates Yo La Tengo’s new album.
Another aspect of Yo La Tengo’s music that is so engrossing is its diversity. The members are obviously musical omnivores who imbibe and are influenced by just about everything. There are wistful/playful pop gems (“Beanbag Chair”), funky Bossa Nova numbers (“Mr. Tough”), and psychedelic Byrds inspired droners (“The Race Is On Again”). The album is a musical buffet showcasing perfect samples of a huge variety of sounds. Unlike a buffet, however, the listener never goes away with a feeling of overload or bloat. The band may draw from a wide variety of music, but it inevitably receives Yo La Tengo’s unique stamp and tasteful filter.
This is an album of many moods. There is glee, melancholy, sleepiness, sentimentality, and simple awe. It is a true sonic companion to the ups and downs of a life, and that is something to celebrate. It was made by people who, rather than follow trends, follow their hearts and ears. We should be thankful for Yo La Tengo’s commitment to their vision and music. On I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, we see them doing what they’ve been doing for us for 22 years; exploring sound, writing great material, and patiently searching for moments of musical transcendence.