Yo La Tengo

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Ride The Tiger , 7/10
New Wave Hot Dogs , 6.5/10
President , 6/10
Fakebook , 4.5/10
May I Sing With Me , 8/10
Painful , 7/10
Electr-O-Pura , 6.5/10
Genius + Love , 5/10
I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One , 7.5/10
And Then Nothing , 6.5/10
The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science , 6/10
Summer Sun (2003), 6/10
I Am Not Afraid Of You (2006), 6.5/10
Fuckbook (2009) , 4/10
Popular Songs (2009), 5.5/10
Fade (2013) , 4.5/10
Stuff Like That There (2015), 4.5/10
There's a Riot Going On (2018), 5/10

(Translated from my original Italian text by Nicole Zimmerman)

Yo La Tengo was one of the most important groups of the 90's, an inexhaustible source of ideas and a guarantee of quality music. They stood as a beacon of light for alternative rock in terms of intellectual excellence (perhaps the most typical characteristic of rock in the 90's, in opposition to the hedonist music and concerts of the decades prior) and in terms of synthesis, the ability to create a completely new language of reclaimed styles from prior decades.

Despite the highs and lows, they never went wrong with an album and never compromised commercially. Every one of their albums was an experiment (not always successful, but an experiment none the less). It was hard to find a song of theirs that was not an experiment and that did not say something which other songs did not also say. In a sense, the music by Yo La Tengo was an intellectual test on how to avoid the commonplace.

Sometimes they seemed too wise to be true artists, or too scholarly to be truly instinctive, or too noisy to be truly violent; Ira Kaplan wrote songs that will be recalled for a long time to come, for the simple fact that they are reminiscent of songs you do remember for a long time. Kaplan was like a computer programmer when it came to replicating the style of the few bands that no one ever talked about, beginning with the Velvet Underground. They were critics and they knew that critics could never allow themselves to the criticized. Once revealed, this gimmick showed its limits, but remained an effective gimmick just the same.

Yo La Tengo formed in New Jersey by Ira Kaplan, a vocalist influenced by Lou Reed but more languid and subtle, and Georgia Hubley, the drummer. They debuted with the album Ride The Tiger (Coyote, 1986), which took its cue from Velvet Underground by way of Television and Feelies to compose country-rock (very urban country-rock) in River Of Water, Cone of Silence, and The Way Some People Die. Kaplan's strength was greater in the instrumental parts than the vocals. It was there that his hybrid style triumphed by pushing the transcendent guitar trance of Television towards atypical harmonic horizons in the crazy discordant gallop of The Evil That Men Do, destined from the start to remain the group's masterpiece. In abstract ballads like Forest Green, the guitars built intricate textures that were inspired by the finger-picking of country music, by the quivering of psychedelia, and by the exuberant arrangements of "surf" instrumentals and thus came to intensely dream-like solutions. The bridge of Screaming Dead Balloons was a mini-concert of sinister cymbals and voodoo on the tam-tam.

Without the second guitarist, Dave Schramm, the group seemed to purify their country-rock sound on the next album New Wave Hot Dogs (Coyote, 1987), in favor of more harsh and melodic tones. On one side the vigorous tracks showcased the frenzied boogie of House Fall Down, the rock and roll (which culminated in a hypnotic jingle-jangle) of Clunkm, or the whirlwind of distortions that was The Story Of Jazz; yet all of these styles seemed just beyond their reach. On the other side, the tenuous refrains, like those of Syd Barrett, triumphed in Did I Tell You, the ethereal flutter of Three Blocks From Groove St, and No Water, which brought to mind the delicate strokes of impressionist painters. Kaplan's guitar improved, and in the fiery solos he combined the neurotic folk of Neil Young with the mystic jazz of Pharoah Sanders. Yo La Tengo continued to live off of a small babbling idiomatic rock because Kaplan could not find the words of an efficacious personal language.

President (Coyote, 1989) confirmed the fundamental confusion of character, now immersed in acid-rock more dreamy and hypnotic than before (Barnaby Hardly Working, Drug Test). Aside from the hippie-folk ballad in the style of "A Beautiful Day", Alyda, the material was recycled, on the covers and in the incomplete tracks. Kaplan's lazy vocals, languid and resigned, which continued to echo Lou Reed, did not keep the listener in suspense. The album contained a cover (even 2) which of itself constituted one of the more subtle instances of cult of personality.

This was not the case on Fakebook (Bar None, 1990); just a collection of covers (but with the relaxed fresco of Summer).

A late-comer to the New York new wave scene, Kaplan was a more relaxed and less nervous poet. After 4 albums he no longer sought to forge a truly personal language, and it would have been a language indeed; not just a vocabulary of mannerisms borrowed from the history of rock. He did not seek, above all, to compose another album after the first: the albums that came after were of tentative means and underdeveloped ideas as well as transitions. The first album, upon closer examination in a determined manner, made use of contributions of Dave Schramm.

May I Sing With Me (Alias, 1992), with James McNew on the bass, was a truly new album. Here, Kaplan found the balance he so stubbornly sought between the maniacal violence and the delicate contemplation which struggled in his music. Intellectualism was cut, the showy nonchalance of the scholarly rock was gone, and Yo La Tenga acquired the spontaneous rage and intense desperation of a true working class rocker. The album triumphed on all fronts. On the melodic front, the best came from the folk-rock track Upside Down, also one of their most gritty tracks ever, which united a simple and happy melody with confidence and an efficacious guitar noise. Sounds that were rough around the edges were plentiful in Out The Window, which exuded garage-rock stereotypes, and Some Kinda Fatigue, which was absorbed in hysteria like that of Television. The fragile soprano, Hubley, gradually came to the fore front and began to suggestively compliment the scratchy recitation by Kaplan. To Hubley, the 3 "sweet" songs were entrusted, and they were kind of like tonal poems whispered as a lullaby: Satellite, Always Something, and Swing For Life. These tracks were totally different than the rest on the album. On the more savage front, exuberance dominates, such as Mushroom Cloud Of Hiss, which united dissonance like that of Hendrix with a rousing tribal rhythm in crescendo, and Five-Cornered Drone, which demonstrated the limits of effects that have been sought at all costs. These tracks were simpler "songs" which became instilled in the subconscious, like a self-hypnotic exercise. There were even 2 instrumental tracks which were based on guitar feedback: the immense and hallucinogenic Sleeping Pill (the most experimental track Kaplan ever attempted) and the concise and lively Detouring America With Horns. These tracks represented their enlightenment in terms of the psychedelic and neurotic dream of Neil Young, and were worthy heirs of The Evil That Men Do. The album was the most mature (or at least the most varied and complete) of their career.

Painful (Matador, 1993) opened a new chapter for Yo La Tenga. The songs lost their psychedelic quality but conserved their domestic and collective qualities. Sweet and melancholy, they were no longer metaphysical, but simply the emotions of average guys. The long tracks Big Day Coming (sung by Kaplan) and Nowhere Near (whispered by Hubley) created a magical atmosphere within the confines of the new age: vocals, guitar, and organ all produced by drones, left floating to give the sensation of silence. The ultimate reminiscences of Velvet Underground were found in From A Motel 6, sunk into a mire of tenuous vocal harmonies and dissonant arrangements. The acidic organ in Sudden Organ and the monstrous distortion in I Was The Fool Beside You, precisely because it was an exaggeration of psychedelic signs, had nothing in common with tradition. The rules of psychedelic music were used to serve a darkened and realistic imagination, to substitute words and thoughts. The romantic 7-minute instrumental closer, I Heard You Looking, repeated the same simple guitar melody in an ecstatic crescendo.

The single Shaker (1994), whispered over a distorted guitar pattern, was one of their most hypnotic Velvet Underground-ian feasts.

The splendid mystical dreaming of Painful extended to the next album, Electr_O_Pura (Matador, 1995). Articulated from beginning to end with hypnotic reverbs from the guitar, Decora started the dance under the motive of a contralto for the soft voice of Hubley. That angelic ego returned from time to time to calm the turbulent waters of the album, first in the carefree pop Tom Courtenay and then in the marsh of ethereal distortions in Ballad Of Red Buckets (similar to Lather by Jefferson Airplane). However, the album moved closer to gloomy through the mincingly dilated "gospel" of Hour Grows Late, the fragile watermark blues of My Heart's Reflection, and a languid country atmosphere like that of Chris Isaak in Pablo And Andrea. Also in these songs were sharp harmonies, but the flow was grainy. With Flying Lesson one enters into the alienation of Yo La Tengo: The sloppy refrain sung by Kaplan (inspired by Joy Division) in a duet with the hypnotic strumming of the guitar as found in Luna, enriched by a series of events and cacophonous noise, including splintering dubs and twangs, until everything becomes overwhelmed by an incandescent crescendo, repeated by drones like that of Velvet Underground. At the limit of industrial music, False Alarm put in motion a dissonant sob and then proceeded to a boogie rhythm. The lengthy jam finale, Blue Line Swinger, triggered a downpour of counterpoints and discord that constituted the best test of their music. The trio composed a refined and complete sound, compressed between the eccentricity of the guitar and the austere precision of the gospel organ, but at the same time melodious and accessible.

Genius + Love (Matador, 1996) collected rarities, unreleased tracks, outtakes, and live performances (one album was songs, one album was instrumentals).

Their sound further evolved on the next album I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (Matador, 1997), which from a technical point of view represented their most daring experiment. The guitar strumming pushed upon the sleepy rhyme of Moby Octopad and overtook it by the continuous roar of the guitar, and by the industrial noise and fuzz, and replaced it with the instrumental bridge in jazz scales as well as minimalist piano. Solemn organ chords and Native American drumming transformed Autumn Sweater into a kind of church service. Damage was a psychedelic nightmare of dissonance and drones, and Green Arrow was a mirage of Hawaiian beaches and fields of cicadas. Sugarcube was marked by a violent jingle-jangle of guitars bordering on psychedelic raga, and We're an American Band boasts perhaps Kaplan's best solo of his career. However, the melodies were the most predictable of their career, and the album was surprisingly disparate (for intellectuals), alternating between a country ballad (One PM Again), a Brazilian sound (Center Of Gravity), a deafening grunge (Deeper Into Movies), and a tenuous rhyme for children (My Little Corner Of The World); all these points worthy of a group of novices. Little Honda put electricity to work for a boogie resembling the Velvet Underground, paying homage to their beginnings. The cacophonic instrumental Spec Bebop, which dominated the album (10 minutes), linked itself to that early tradition. On the down side, the brief Stockholm Syndrome was a sleek pop tune resembling the Beatles/Bacharach, replete with falsetto lead and backup harmonies. This became the "classic" album of Yo La Tengo, not necessarily their most creative, but probably the album on which their sound was the most personal and emotional.

The eight-track EP Little Honda (1998) contained the laid-back lullaby of By the Time It Gets Dark.

Yo La Tengo collaborated with Jad Fair on the album Strange But True (Matador, 1999).

Gli Yo La Tengo sono uno dei complessi piu` importanti degli anni '90, un'inesauribile sorgente di idee e una garanzia di qualita`. Sono stati per molti versi il faro del rock alternativo, in quanto gruppo intellettuale per eccellenza (forse la caratteristica piu` tipica del rock degli anni '90, in contrapposizione alla musica edonista, da concerto, dei decenni precedenti) e in quanto gruppo di sintesi, capace di coniare un linguaggio completamente nuovo dal riciclaccio di stilemi dei decenni precedenti.

Seppur fra alti e bassi, non hanno mai sbagliato un album e non sono mai scesi a compromessi commerciali. Ogni loro album, anzi, e` stato un esperimento (non sempre riuscito, ma pur sempre un esperimento). E` difficile trovare nella loro opera una canzone che non sia un esperimento, che non dica qualcosa che le altre canzoni non dicevano. In un certo senso l'opera degli Yo La Tengo e` stato un intellettuale saggio su come evitare la banalita`.

Talvolta troppo smaliziato per essere davvero artista, o troppo dotto per essere davvero istintivo, o troppo rumoroso per essere davvero violento, Ira Kaplan scrive comunque canzoni che si ricorderanno a lungo, per il semplice fatto che ricordano canzoni che si ricorderanno a lungo. Kaplan e` un computer progammato per replicare lo stile di quei pochi complessi che nessuno ha mai messo in discussione, a cominciare dai Velvet Underground. E` un critico, e sa cosa i critici non potranno mai permettersi di criticare. Una volta svelato, il trucco puo` mostrare dei limiti, ma rimane sempre un trucco efficace.

Formati nel New Jersey da Ira Kaplan, cantante influenzato dal Lou Reed piu` languido e subdolo, e da Georgia Hubley, batterista. gli Yo La Tengo si presentarono con un album, Ride The Tiger (Coyote, 1986), che prendeva lo spunto dai Velvet Underground via i Television e i Feelies, per comporre il country-rock (molto urbanizzato) di River Of Water, Cone Of Silence e The Way Some People Die.
La forza di Kaplan stava piu` nelle parti strumentali che in quelle vocali. E` li` che il suo ibrido stilistico trionfa, spingendo le trascendenti trance chitarristiche dei Television verso nuovi aberranti orizzonti armonici nella folle galoppata di stonature di The Evil That Men Do, destinata a rimanere il suo capolavoro. In ballate astratte come Forest Green le chitarre costruiscono tessiture intricate che si ispirano liberamente al "fingerpicking" del country, al tremolo della psichedelia, agli accordi esuberanti del surf strumentale e pervengono a soluzioni intensamente oniriche. L'intermezzo di Screaming Dead Balloons e` un micro-concerto di tam-tam voodoo e sibili sinistri.

Privato del secondo chitarrista Dave Schramm, il gruppo sembra depurare il sound delle scorie country-rock sul successivo New Wave Hot Dogs (Coyote, 1987), a favore di toni piu` duri e melodici. Da un lato spiccano brani vigorosi come il boogie frenetico di House Fall Down, il rock and roll (cullato da un jingle-jangle ipnotico) di Clunk o quel tornado di distorsioni che e` The Story Of Jazz, tutti stili che sembravano fuori dalla sua portata. Dall'altro trionfa il tenero ritornello alla Syd Barrett di Did I Tell You, e l'etereo fluttuare di Three Blocks From Groove St e No Water ricordano le tenui calligrafie dei dipinti impressionisti. Il chitarrismo di Kaplan e` migliorato e negli assoli piu` infuocati riesce a fondere la nevrosi folk di Neil Young al misticismo jazz di Pharoah Sanders. Pur continuando a galleggiare in una piccola Babele di idiomi rock, Kaplan riesce a trovare le parole un linguaggio personale di rara efficacia.

President (Coyote, 1989) conferma pero` la fondamentale confusione del personaggio, ora immerso fino al collo nell'acidrock piu` onirico e ipnotico (Barnaby Hardly Working, Drug Test). A parte la ballata hippie-folk alla It's A Beautiful Day di Alyda, si tratta di materiale riciclato, di cover, di brani incompiuti. Il suo canto pigro, languido, dimesso, che continua ad echeggiare quello di Reed, non contribuisce a tenere con il fiato sospeso l'ascoltatore. E un'opera che contiene una cover (anzi due) di se stesso costituisce uno dei piu` subdoli casi di culto della personalita`.

Non a caso Fakebook (Bar None, 1990) e` soltanto una raccolta di cover (ma con il rilassato affresco di Summer).

Tardo esponente della new wave newyorkese, Kaplan e` un Verlaine piu` rilassato e meno nevrotico. Dopo quattro album non era ancora riuscito a forgiare un linguaggio davvero personale, e che sia un linguaggio, non soltanto un vocabolario di "maniere" prese a prestito dalla storia del rock. Non era riuscito, soprattutto, a comporre un altro disco dopo il primo: tutti i successivi erano stati dei mezzi tentativi, delle mezze idee, dei mezzi passi di transizione. E il primo disco, a ben guardare, si avvaleva in maniera determinante dell'apporto di Dave Schramm...

May I Sing With Me (Alias, 1992), con James McNew al basso, e` il nuovo (vero) album. Qui Kaplan trova infatti l'equilibrio tanto testardamente cercato fra la violenza maniacale e la delicatezza contemplativa in cui si dibatte da sempre la sua musica. Perde l'affettato intellettualismo, l'ostentata nonchalance dell'erudito rock, e acquista la rabbia spontanea e l'intensita` disperata del vero rocker proletario.
Il disco trionfa su tutti i fronti. Sul versante melodico il meglio viene dal folkrock di Upside Down, al tempo stesso uno dei loro brani piu` grintosi di sempre, che unisce una semplice e felice melodia a un passo spigliato e a un efficace chiasso chitarristico. Sono ricche di asprezze sonore anche Out The Window, che trasuda stereotipi da garage-rock, e Some Kinda Fatigue, imbevuta di isterismo alla Television.
Il fragile soprano di Hubley e` venuto progressivamente in primo piano ed ora complementa suggestivamente il gracchiante "recitativo" di Kaplan. Sono affidati a lei i tre brani "dolci" della racconta, sorta di poemi tonali da bisbigliare come ninnananne piu` che cantare: Satellite , Always Something e Swing For Life. Non sono neppure parenti del resto dell'opera.
Sul versante piu` selvaggio troneggia invece la tempestosa esuberanza di Mushroom Cloud Of Hiss, che unisce tornado dissonanti alla Hendrix con una trascinante cadenza tribale in crescendo; mentre Five-Cornered Drone manifesta i soliti limiti dell'effetto cercato a tutti i costi. Questi brani sono piu` di semplici "canzoni": si insinuano progressivamente dentro l'inconscio, come in un esercizio di auto-ipnosi.
Anzi, i due brani strumentali, basati sul feedback della chitarra, la sterminata e allucinogena Sleeping Pill (quanto di piu` sperimentale Kaplan abbia mai tentato) e la piu` concisa e briosa Detouring America With Horns, rappresentano il satori della loro reinterpretazione dell'onirismo psichedelico e delle nevrosi di Neil Young, e sono degne eredi di The Evil That Men Do. L'album e` il piu` maturo (o perlomeno il piu` vario e completo) della loro carriera.

Painful (Matador, 1993) apre una nuova stagione. Le sue canzoni hanno perso la qualita` psichedelica e conservato quella domestica e collegiale. Dolcezza e mestizia non sono piu` stati metafisici, ma semplici emozioni di ragazzi medi. Le lunghe Big Day Coming (cantata da Kaplan) e Nowhere Near (bisbigliata da Hubley) pennellano atmosfere magiche, al confine con la new age: canto, chitarre e organo producono soltanto dei "droni", lasciati fluttuare fino a rendere la sensazione del silenzio. Anche le ultime reminescenze di Velvet Underground, come From A Motel 6, affondano in un pantano di tenui armonie vocali e accordi dissonanti. L'organo acidissimo di Sudden Organ e la distorsione mostruosa di I Was The Fool Beside You, proprio in quanto esagerazione di segni psichedelici, finiscono per non aver piu` nulla in comune con quella tradizione. I codici della musica psichedelica sono messi al servizio di una poetica crepuscolare e realista, a sostituire parole e pensieri.
The romantic seven-minute instrumental closer, I Heard You Looking, keeps repeating the same simple guitar melody in an ecstatic crescendo.

The single Shaker (1994), whispered over a distorted guitar pattern, is one of their most hypnotic Velvet Underground-ian feasts.

Lo splendido, mistico onirismo di Painful si estende anche al successivo Electr-O-Pura (Matador, 1995). Scandito dall'inizio alla fine dal riverbero ipnotico della chitarra, Decora apre le danze all'insegna di un motivetto per il contralto sottovoce di Hubley, e quell'ego angelico ritorna di quando in quando a calmare le torbide acque del disco, prima nel pop spensierato di Tom Courtenay e poi nella palude di eteree distorsioni della Ballad Of Red Buckets (simile alla [Lather dei Jefferson Airplane). Ma ci si spinge man mano verso lidi sempre piu` foschi, attraverso il gospel leziosamente dilatato di Hour Grows Late, la fragile filigrana blues di My Heart's Reflection, il languido country atmosferico alla Chris Isaak di Pablo And Andrea, Anche in queste canzoni estatiche le armonie sono angolari e spigolose, ma la granularita` e` tale da lasciarle fluire come tali. Con Flying Lesson si entra invece nel vivo della loro alienazione: il ritornello dimesso canticchiato da Kaplan (liberamente ispirato ai Joy Division) duetta con uno strimpellio ipnotico di chitarra alla Luna, arricchito da una parata di eventi collaterali e disturbi cacofonici, comprese schegge di dub e di twang, ma poi tutto viene travolto da un crescendo incandescente, rigurgitante di droni alla Velvet Underground. Al limite della musica industriale, False Alarm si mette in moto con un singhiozzo di dissonanze e poi procede spedita a ritmo boogie. La lunga jam finale, Blue Line Swinger, scatena un nubifragio di contrappunti e discordanze che costituisce il miglior saggio critico sulla loro arte. Il trio compone un sound estremamente raffinato e complesso, compresso fra le eccentricita` della chitarra e l'austera precisione dell'organo gospel, ma al tempo stesso melodico e accessibile.

Genius + Love (Matador, 1996) collects rarities, unreleased tracks, outtakes, and live performances (one disc is songs, one disc is instrumentals).

Il sound continua a evolvere sul successivo I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (Matador, 1997), che dal punto di vista tecnico rappresenta il loro esperimento piu` ardito. Lo strimpellio di chitarra che sospinge lievemente la cantilena sonnolenta di Moby Octopad e` solcato da un rombo continuo di chitarra, da rumori "industriali" e piccoli "fuzz", e viene sostituito nel ponte strumentale da scale jazzate e minimaliste del pianoforte. Solenni accordi d'organo e percussioni indiane trasformano Autumn Sweater in una specie di messa. Damage e` un incubo psichedelico di dissonanze e droni e Green Arrow un miraggio paradisiaco di spiagge hawaiane e campi di cicale. Sugarcube e` contrassegnata da un violento jingle-jangle delle chitarre, al limite del raga psichedelico, e We're an American Band ha forse il miglior assolo di chitarra della carriera di Kaplan. Le melodie sono pero` le piu` scontate della loro carriera. E il disco e` soprendentemente disomogeneo (per degli intellettuali come loro), capace di alternare una ballata country (One PM Again) a una bossanova (Center Of Gravity), dal grunge assordante (Deeper Into Movies) a un tenero girotondo per bambini (My Little Corner Of The World); tutti spunti degni di un complesso alle prime armi.
Little Honda mette l'elettricita` al servizio di un boogie alla Velvet Underground, rendendo in tal modo omaggio ai loro esordi. Anche lo strumentale cacofonico Spec Bebop che troneggia sul disco (dieci minuti) si riallaccia a quella tradizione.
On the downside, the brief Stockholm Syndrome is a sleek pop tune e` la Beatles/Bacharach, replete with falsetto lead and backup harmonies.
Questo e` l'album "classico" degli Yo La Tengo, non necessariamente il piu` creativo (anzi) ma probabilmente quello in cui il loro sound e` piu` personale ed emotivo.

The eight-track EP Little Honda (1998) contains the laid-back lullaby of By the Time It Gets Dark.

Gli Yo La Tengo hanno poi collaborato al disco di Jad Fair, Strange But True (Matador, 1999).

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador, 2000), the mellowest Yo La Tengo album ever, for practical purposes devoid of melodic variation (most songs are sung in a monotonous whisper) and focused on sonic textures, is a de facto concept album sandwiched between two dreamy and ghostly interludes. Kaplan and company sing the melancholy of ordinary lives with the detached tone and the spiritual weltanschaung of Nico (Saturday, with electronic backbeat, and especially Everyday, a sort of slow-motion version of the Velvet Underground's Venus In Furs) and with the gloomy nonchalance of Lou Reed (Our Way To Fall, the jazzy The Last Days of Disco). On the other hand, the epic-length dirge Night Falls On Hoboken sis virtually an overdose of claustrophobic Nick Drake-ian moaning against an easy-listening backdrop with an eight-minute instrumental psychedelic coda. That and the tribal bacchanal of Cherry Chapstick, the celestial shuffle of You Can Have It All, and the trip-hop instrumental Tired Hippo, constitute as much innovation as there is here.
The album also contains odd detours into "retro" music such as the old-fashioned late-night dance The Crying of Lot G and the Caribbean lounge shuffle Let's Save Tony Orlando's House.
This album is more of a classical balance of dejavu and re-elaboration.

Three instrumentals from these sessions (and some remixes) will surface on the mini-album Danelectro (Matador, 2000). This all-instrumental work is more ambitious in scope and may be remembered as a transitional (eg, failed) work, but it may also be the beginning of a career as avantgarde composers.

The all-instrumental album The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science (Egon, 2002) contains the soundtrack to a Jean Painleve film. In the all-instrumental format, Yo La Tengo always sounds intriguing and visionary. Their eerie scores (Sea Urchins, Liquid Crystals) are new-age music for the literate.

The EP Nuclear War (Matador, 2002) contains four different versions of Sun Ra's masterpiece.

While not as experimental as its predecessor, Summer Sun (Matador, 2003) tries to be, on the other hand, atmospheric where it used to be merely languid. The experiments, in other words, have been useful to renovate a sound that was becoming a cliche`. There are the pop song (James McNew's Tiny Birds and Little Eyes, both replete with classic refrains), and there are the fragile folk elegies (How to Make a Baby Elephant Float and especially Georgia Hubley's Today Is the Day). But the real delights of the album are the mostly-instrumental pieces: the the ambient, tidal lullaby Beach Party Tonight, the surreal funk of Georgia Vs Yo La Tengo, and the chamber (flute, trumpet, saxophone, piano) free-jazz cantata Let's Be Still. There are also novelty numbers (the charming, bossanova-like Season of the Shark, the waltzing Winter A-Go-Go, the beat-poetry rapping of Moonrock Mambo) that don't always work, but show dexterity at assimilating new ideas, and there are nods at a new form of dance-jazz (Nothing But You and Me and Don't Have to Be So Sad) that could be their next phase.

The six-song EP Today Is The Day (Matador, 2003) includes three songs that did not fit on the album: Styles of the Times, a hard-rocking Lou Reed imitation, Outsmarter, a solemn Velvet Underground-ian boogie sung in a cavernous tone, and the brief instrumental Dr Crash.

Prisoners of Love (Matador, 2005) is a triple-disc career retrospective that offers way too many "rarities" (i.e., junk).

Is Murdering The Classics (Egon, 2006) is a terrible collection of live covers.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Luca Battistini)

And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (Matador, 2000), il disco piu' maturo di sempre degli Yo La Tengo, privo a tutti gli effetti di melodia e limitato a tessiture soniche, e' di fatto un concept-album compresso tra gli interludi trasognati e spettrali di Everyday e Night Falls On Hoboken. Kaplan e compagni cantano la malinconia di vite qualunque con il tono distaccato e la weltanschaung spirituale di Nico (Saturday, The Crying Of Lot G, Our Way To Fall, Last Days Of Disco). Ad eccezione di Cherry Chapstick, della lunga, funerea nenia Night Falls On Hoboken, e del trip-hop strumentale Tired Hippo, c'e' ben poca innovazione in questo disco, in equilibrio tra dejavu e rielaborazione.

Tre brani strumentali di queste se! ssioni (e alcuni remix) saranno pubblicati sul mini-album Danelectro (Matador, 2000). Il lavoro, completamente strumentale, si propone scopi piu' ambiziosi e potrebbe essere ricordato come un'opera di transizione (non riuscita) oppure come l'inizio di una carriera da compositori di musica d'avanguardia.

L'album The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science (Egon, 2002) contiene la colonna sonora composta per un film di Jean Painleve film. Nel formato strumentale, gli Yo La Tengo suonano sempre intriganti e visionari. Le loro strane partiture (Sea Urchins, Liquid Crystals) sono musica new-age per ascoltatori eruditi.

L'EP Nuclear War (Matador, 2002) contiene quattro versioni differenti del capolavoro di Sun Ra.

Per quanto meno sperimentale, Summer Sun (Matador, 2003) tenta d'altra parte di sostituire atmosfera al mero languore del suo predecessore. In altre parole, gli esperimenti sono risultati utili per rinnovare un suono che stava diventando un cliche'. Ci sono canzoni pop (Tiny Birds e Little Eyes, di James McNew, sature entrambe di ritornelli classici) e fragili elegie folk (How to Make a Baby Elephant Float e specialmente Today Is the Day, di Georgia Hubley), ma le vere delizie dell'album sono i brani prevalentemente strumentali: la fluttuante ninna-nanna ambient Beach Party Tonight, il funk surreale di Georgia Vs Yo La Tengo, e la cantata free-jazz da camera (flauto, tromba, sassofono, piano) Let's Be Still. Ci sono anche numeri nuovi (l'affascinante ! Season of the Shark, vicina a una bossanova, il valzer di Winter A-Go-Go, il rap da poeta beat di Moonrock Mambo), che non sempre funzionano, ma testimoniano della destrezza nell'assimilare idee nuove; e ci sono cenni ad una nuova forma di dance-jazz (Nothing But You and Me e Don't Have to Be So Sad), che potrebbe essere la loro prossima fase.

Le sei canzoni dell'EP Today Is The Day (Matador, 2003) includono tre pezzi rimasti fuori dall'album: Styles of the Times, un'imitazione hard-rock di Lou Reed, Outsmarter, un solenne boogie Velvet Underground-iano cantato con un registro cavernoso, e il breve strumentale Dr Crash.

Most likely, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador, 2006) is the work of consummate musicians who have precious little left to say, but they can say it very well. There is also precious little here that they have not done before (and better).
It is their most eclectic and varied collection yet. On the other hand, most of the songs sound insincere, paying tribute to this or that phase of the group and to this or that period of rock music: piano-paced folk-rock ditties such as Beanbag, lilting soul ballads such as Sometimes I Don't Get You, Latin-jazz falsetto novelties such as Mr Tough, chamber-pop elegies such as Black Flowers, guitar-driven soft-pop lullabies such as The Race Is On Again, spare alt-country yarns such as I Feel Like Going Home and Song For Mahlia, breezy country-rock singalongs such as The Weakest Part, Mersey-beat ditties such as I Should Have Known Better, Cramps-ian rockabilly romp such as Watch Out for Me Ronnie (perhaps the best of this parade of imitations).
The emotional and musical core of the album remains (like for most of their career) the Velvet Underground-inspired numbers: the eleven-minute instrumental Pass the Hatchet (distorted organ drones, insistent rhythm, bacchanal-like crescendo), and especially the twelve-minute guitar noisefest of The Story of Yo La Tango. Perhaps these are also a lot less sincere than they used to be, but Yo La Tengo have perfected the art of appropriating the vocabulary of Lou Reed and John Cale. The lengthy ghostly instrumental Daphnia is another highlight, a wavering stream of piano and guitar notes far from the limelight of rock cliches. And the manic surf-jazz dance of Point and Shoot and the surreal Caribbean shuffle The Room Got Heavy, are the real alerts that these are musicians capable of more than merely rehashing their (and the others') musical history.
Hubley and Kaplan are also smart enough to downplay their vocal harmonies.

The mini-album Fuckbook (Matador, 2009), that Yo La Tengo released under the moniker Condo Fucks, was probably just a prank (it's just a set of disfigured covers) that the band assembled to see what the critics would write.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Luca Criscuoli)

La cosa più verosimile è che, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador, 2006) sia il lavoro di musicisti consumati a cui è rimasto ben poco da dire, ma che sanno dirlo molto bene. Contiene anche molto poco che essi non abbiamo già detto (e meglio). La maggior parte delle canzoni suona poco sincera, pagando il tributo a questa o quella fase del gruppo ed a questo o quel periodo della musica rock: pezzi folk-rock come Beanbag, Black Flowers e The Weakest Part, elegie pop da camera come Black Flowers, ballate alt-country come I Feel Like Going Home e Song For Mahlia, e selvagge garage-rock rumorose come I Should Have Known Better e Watch Out for Me Ronnie. Il nucleo emozionale e musicale dell’album rimangono (come per gran parte della loro carriera) i brani ispirati ai Velvet Underground: Pass the Hatchet, The Race Is On e specialmente i dodici minuti di festa di rumori di The Story of Yo La Tango. Forse queste sono molto meno sincere di una volta, ma Yo La Tengo hanno perfezionato l’arte di far proprio il vocabolario di Lou Reed e Nico. Un altro momento saliente è la lunga e spettrale Daphnia, lontana dalla luce della ribalta degli stereotipi del rock. E le deviazioni jazzistiche di Point and Shoot, The Room Got Heavy e Sometimes I Don't Get You sono gli effettivi segnali che sono musicisti capaci di meglio che non un mero rimaneggiamento della loro storia musicale. Hubley e Kaplan sono anche sufficientemente intelligenti da minimizzare le loro armonie vocali.

Yo La Tengo's Popular Songs (Matador, 2009) covers a lot of ground, as far as format goes, because Periodically Double Or Triple is a casual funk shuffle, while the mediocre By Two's represents the duo's trademark slocore art. Intergalactic signals introduce Here To Fall, a cross between a jazzy orchestral jam, a Cream-like melody (replete with "wah-wah" solo) and a thick syncopated rhythm. At the same time the album reveals a strand of nostalgic Sixties revival, from the bouncy Farfisa-driven ditty Nothing To Hide, one of their liveliest creations, to If It's True, an orchestral soul singalong. When It's Dark sounds like David Crosby fronting Creedence Clearwater Revival. The problem is that the songs also includes some truly awful ballads. This idiosyncratic collection ends with three lengthy pieces: the subdued nine-minute psychedelic threnody More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, the eleven-minute ambient fresco for acoustic guitar The Fireside, and the 16-minute post-Hendrixian space-rock jam And The Glitter Is Gone. None of these is essential. This is high-class routine from veterans who could play blindfolded and still kick ass.

They Shoot, We Score (Egon, 2009) collects film music of 2005 and 2006.

Fade (Matador, 2013) was the first Yo La Tengo album not produced by Roger Moutenot in more than 20 years. Hiring Tortoise's drummer John McEntire as the new producer did not make much of a difference, anyway. The problem is the quality of the material, not the production: these sound like old tapes that Kaplan found somewhere in the garage and decided to put out on an album. The dense, rhythmic psychedelic singalong Ohm is passable, but the country-pop shuffle Is That Enough (replete with sleep-inducing string orchestra), the nostalgic beach Farfisa-rock of Well You Better, are embarrassing second-rate pop muzak (to name only the "highlights"). For future biographers it might be interesting that Kaplan pays tribute to Nick Drake's spartan folk in I'll Be Around, but only hardcore fan can make it to the end of the album, to the six-minute static orchestral ballad Before We Run

Stuff Like That There (Matador, 2015) collects covers, remixes (The Ballad of Red Buckets, Deeper Into Movies) and leftovers, similar to what they did on Fakebook (1990).

There's a Riot Going On (Matador, 2018) is not much better. The title is stolen from Sly Stone's 1971 album but musically the two albums have nothing in common. The good news is the variety: from the western-movie instrumental You Are Here to the country lullaby Shades of Blue, from the relaxed Caribbean vibes of Let's Do It Wrong to 1940s-era Frank Sinatra-esque tune Forever, from the Lou Reed-ian dirge She May She Might to the poppy For You Too, the only song that is not letargic. What Chance Have I Got sounds like a Latin-soul remix of a funereal Nico lied, while Shortwave is simply a celestial drone of synths in the style of the meditative new-age music of the 1980s, and Above the Sound is simply a percussive orgy. To balance the Latin-tinged moments, there are at least two Indian-tinged moments: Dream Dream Away, an enchanted litany that evokes the hippy era, and the "om"-like Here You Are. The bad news is that none of these amount to much, and each would be omitted from albums made by specialists of its genre. Yo La Tengo tries a bit too hard to sound sophisticated. It achieves sophistication but at the expense of substance.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

Se sei interessato a tradurre questo testo, contattami

What is unique about this music database