Under Review: Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

If there’s one thing that Yo La Tengo has never been, isn’t, and will never be, it’s popular.  Sure, they are one of the most beloved bands in indie circles, but their mythic nature and ever-shifting music make them rather elusive for new comer fans.  Indeed, I was a little unsure of what to make of the band after hearing their mostly-covers album Fakebook.  However, despite whatever traditional perception of fame they may or may not ever enjoy, the Hoboken trio has managed to make an album that, true to its title, may prove to be one of their most popular releases.  A lesser band might affix the title Popular Songs to a career-spanning retrospective (Yo La Tengo already has one of those, mind you).  In the album’s dozen songs, the band throws in all their tricks, but manages to sound as fresh as ever.  The album’s two similarly-titled pieces, “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar” and “Periodically Double Or Triple” serve as highlights, with the latter interrupting its own farfisa boogie with a few bars of ambient hiss.  Though there is plenty to love on the record, the most attention is likely going to be drawn to its final three songs, which happen to make up about half of the running time.  The members of Yo La Tengo, like contemporaries Sonic Youth, have always known their way around an extended noise experiment.  For all of their saccharin pop moments, they balance things out with scrapes of guitar fuzz and drum bash.  First is “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” which explores the layering and texturing that has been one of Yo La Tengo’s trademarks.  While it’s not exactly Loveless, it is a bit more inviting than Kevin Shields (which isn’t saying all that much).  Next is “The Fireside,” an 11-minute piece that shows that acoustic instruments can carry a long song, too.  Lastly comes “And The Glitter Is Gone,” the 15-minute electrified rave-up that YLT diehards were waiting for since the opening squeaks of “Here To Fall.”  Sure, some might balk at an album with such an unusual dispersal of running times for being off-putting and non-traditional, but tradition itself has never been popular with Yo La Tengo. And we’re all better off that way.

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~ by E. on September 9, 2009.

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