Whenever I’m disheartened with the musical world, I think of Yo La Tengo. Over the last 30 years, the post-punk art rock continuum has gradually been deteriorating into a watered-down, ideologically bankrupt version of its radical original self. By 2007 Sonic Youth were gearing up to release their latest record via Starbucks; by 2009, Iggy Pop’s cadaverous torso would be besmirching billboards all over the UK as part of an ad campaign for Inside Line car insurance (a big part of me still refuses to believe that this last sentence describes an empirically verifiable fact).
But somehow, thankfully, through all this, Yo La Tengo’s progressive, principled, art music trajectory has been unwavering. Indeed, perhaps partially because of this backdrop of sell-out and creative atrophy among their peers, the Hoboken, New Jersey three-piece seemed to attain to an unlikely artistic peak this decade, with a run of career-highlight releases, and a comprehensively brilliant twentieth-anniversary retrospective in the form of 2004’s Prisoners of Love anthology.
One of my pet theories about musical creativity is that, to be truly successful at creating sound, you have to have some kind of deep understanding of the other thing, some kind of awareness of (and respect for) silence. This kind of sensibility is something Yo La Tengo have in spades, and I think this is part of the reason they seemed to come into their own in this decade of hyperbole and noise. 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, is (from the title downwards) an encapsulation of this dedication to subtlety and restraint, the power of silence, the possibilities of nothingness. It might take a while for the first-time listener to appreciate this unique approach to music-making, but once it clicks there’s no turning back, no return to the sledgehammer obviousness and lurid musical sensationalism of Zutonland.
Album opener ‘Everyday’ is both an introduction to, and an embodiment of, the singular negative capability at work here. An industrial drone plays alone for a few seconds before being punctuated by the subterranean, bass-filtered drum loop which forms the backbone of the tune. The trio have learned a thing or two from Phillip Glass and NYC minimalism generally (shades of Laurie Anderson here too?) – witness the three-note cello-like melodic motif that runs throughout, a dramatic and ominous way to offset the forays into slide-guitar noise experimentation.
But it’s the hushed vocal duet that really underlines the beauty and mystique that comes from holding something back rather than letting it all hang out. Scarcely rising above a whisper, husband and wife Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley deliver with precision, grace, and nuanced emotion a set of lyrics which epitomise the virtues of understatement and quiet suggestion, and which don’t require any further commentary from me:
I want summer’s sad songs behind me.
I want a laugh a minute, without fail
Want to be Paul Le Mat in 1980
Looking to forget tomorrow, looking everyday.
I want to see you put your hands together.
I want to cross my heart
I want to hope to die
I hear Kate Moss talk, she talks to me
She’s looking for a new beginning everyday.
When Monday comes I want nothing
Come Tuesday morning I want the same
The days and nights fly by
Looking to embrace the nothing, of the everyday.
read more . . . http://www.whatisthegrain.com
New: Boredoms review.