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Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

  by Mark Rowland

published: 13 / 9 / 2009

Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
Label: Retroworld
Format: CD


Consistently inventive twelfth album from Yo la Tengo, who twenty five years into their career maintain both their energy and also their creative edge

Twelve albums into their career, and Yo La Tengo still show no signs of waning. Bar one or two patchy albums, the quality of their albums from 1989's 'President Yo La Tengo' onwards has been pretty consistent, with each album having its own sound, and each sounding unmistakably like Yo La Tengo. It’s not a trick that many bands can pull off, and there is not any great secret to it, although it helps that the band has had a stable lineup since 1992, and that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, the band’s founders, are husband and wife. Other bands that have achieved a similar solidarity – Sonic Youth and the Flaming Lips, for example – similarly seem to be able to maintain the energy and enthusiasm for their music that originally made them great. Yo La Tengo share some musical elements with both those bands, experimenting with different sounds and genres, stitching together both pre and post punk sounds. 'Popular Songs' is a fairly varied record – just when you think you’ve got it sussed, it throws you a curve ball. The first three tracks are laid back and atmospheric, from the Spiritualized style haze of opener 'Here to Fall' to the 60s psychedelic pop via shoegaze of 'Avalon or Someone Similar'. Third track 'By Two’s' is the most ethereal, like Nico backed by Pink Floyd. 'Nothing to Hide', however, takes the album in a completely different direction, a fuzzy naïve pop song, the kind you’d find on K records, with some nice harmonies, screeching guitar solo and 60s style organ. Periodically 'Triple Or Double' brings the sound of 1967 even further to the fore. It’s a mid-tempo twelve bar most of the way through, driven by a simple bassline, with guitar and organ stabs on the upbeat. 'If It’s True' is also organ heavy, the kind of guitar pop that Belle and Sebastian specialise in, complete with a string section. 'I’m On My Way' is a delightfully breezy, warm sunny afternoon sort of tune, in the same way that Nick Drake’s songs are. ‘When it’s Dark’ follows in a similar vein, sickly sweet, with breathy vocals. The final three songs all stretch to the ten minute mark and beyond, with each getting longer than the next. 'More Stars Than There Are in Heaven' starts majestically, with synth and strings replaced by chiming and droning guitars, densely building up subtle layers beneath down-played vocals. 'The Fireside' is strummed acoustic guitars and electronic pulses, minimalistic and instrumental for the vast majority of the track – the vocals kicking in at around seven minutes. By contrast, 'And the Glitter Is Gone' starts with screeching guitar, pulsing bass and fluttering drums. This is largely instrumental, essentially an extended jam, but despite its formlessness, it keeps the attention. Yo La Tengo have yet again made an album that surpasses many younger bands. Perhaps they’ll start to show their age in their fourth decade.

Track Listing:-
1 Here to Fall
2 Avalon or Someone Very Similar
3 By Two's
4 Nothing to Hide
5 Periodically Double or Triple
6 If It's True
7 I'm On My Way
8 When It's Dark
9 All Your Secrets
10 More Stars Than There Are in Heaven
11 The Fireside
12 And the Glitter Is Gone
13 Watch Out for Me Ronnie (Live at Primavera 09)

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Interview (2009)
Yo La Tengo - Interview
One of the most innovative bands of the last 25 years, Yo La Tengo have just released their latest new album, 'Popular Songs'. Mark Rowland speaks to the band's front man Ira Kaplan about it and adaptable and constantly changing nature of his band

live reviews

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 15/6/2009
Yo La Tengo - Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 15/6/2009
Ben Howarth enjoys a rare stripped down and acoustic set of music from much acclaimed American group Yo La Tengo at a Meltdown Festival gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London
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