YO LA TENGO
AND THEN NOTHING TURNED ITSELF INSIDE OUT
If there's one rule to remember in amnesia-prone pop, it's that boy bands and so-called divas will always sum up the complex emotion of love by rhyming "fire" with "desire." Hallmark couplets aside, a few artists manage to address the subject without resorting to nauseating, cookie-cutter sentiments. On And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, indie darlings Yo La Tengo chart those choppy waters with a languid look at the love between guitarist Ira Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley. Following 1997's stunning I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, Yo La Tengo chose to move away from squealing feedback, instead getting heavy on the atmospherics. From the dreamy organ sounds to Kaplan and Hubley's hushed vocals, Nothing mesmerizes as husband and wife recount their first fragile meeting, awkward dancing and struggle to build an enduring relationship. When Kaplan whispers/sings about staring at his shoes and stealing glances at his future wife on the delicate "Our Way to Fall," it's hard not to want to hug the guy for being so damn sweet. Not every tune proves so mellow. On "Cherry Chapstick," the trio pound out a delicious pop treat —with Kaplan channeling the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" through bursts of feedback-drenched guitar—capped with the line "There's a girl with cherry Chapstick on/And nothing more." Mmmm . . . lip-care products never sounded so sexy. (Mark Smith)
THE HAMMERTOES THE HAMMERTOES/I TOO HAVE SINNED TORTUGA RECORDS
If travel broadens the mind, it inevitably also broadens your record collection. Case in point: the Hammertoes, whom I came across on a recent trip to Phoenix, are one of those huge-ass bands that put something like 15 people onstage, including three or four guitarists, a saxophone bleater, two percussionists, a tuba tooter and—I'm not making this up —a saw player (does that make him a sawist?). It's not a cacophonous mess, though, but a gentle, jazzy, upbeat blend. Their rawness is embodied in lead singer Reverend Casey Wades' extremely melodic if Tom Waits-ian voice. Waits even gets a thank-you in the liner notes of their self-titled CD (they cover his song "Yesterday Is Here"), so calling him an influence is probably an understatement. But it's definitely tribute, not imitation—"Yesterday" plays like Waits singing Gershwin (that's a good thing). At one point, Wades croons the phrase "I'm running with scissors" repeatedly, with all the emotion of the Four Tops begging, "Please don't leave me girl; don't you go." Elsewhere, they play a moody, blues-filled one-up on Ricky Martin with "Mi Vida Loca." Both of these albums are laden with soul, feeling and a subtle, bizarre sense of humor—these are songs laced with heartbreak, a touch of cynicism, a hell of a lot of humanity and even more alcohol. They're Tom Waits' heirs, in other words, and that's a good thing, too. (Victor D. Infante)
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