[CD Review] Yo La Tengo, 'Popular Songs' (Matador)
After 25 years, the unexpected should be expected from Yo La Tengo. The Hoboken trio have kept fans’ attention by dabbling in unfamiliar styles and reinventing old ones. Though not as ambitious as 2006’s all-over-the-map I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, their 12th album covers just enough new ground to come off as courageous and fresh.
Take the tidal wave of dramatic string flourishes in keyboard space jam “Here to Fall,” or the Jonathan Richman-meets-funk of “Periodically Double or Triple.” Even better is the Motown tinge of “If It’s True,” the most cuddly duet to feature husband Ira Kaplan and wife Georgia Hubley since 1997’s “Center of Gravity.” (Can’t you just see them working things out over dinner, her softly reprimanding, “Won’t you try a little bit harder?” and him cooing back, “I could try a little bit more”?)
Songs recalling earlier albums might be more predictable, but they serve as catchy reminders of what this band can do. “Nothing to Hide,” a simple, fist-in-the-air rocker in the vein of “Sugarcube,” proves that Kaplan can still go crazy with his guitar, while the gentle “All Your Secrets” shows him to be just as adept at whispering sweet nothings. Perhaps most impressive of all are the last three tracks. Long instrumentals building layers upon layers of dreamy soundscapes and noisy feedback might be nothing new, but the album closes with almost 40 minutes’ worth of this stuff. Now, that takes chutzpah.
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