Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yo La Tengo, "Popular Songs"

Depending on who you want to believe, this album either continues YLT's career resurgence, or is simply a fine albeit forgettable record. I don't understand the "resurgence" narrative because it's not like ten years passed by without a good albums, in fact the only widely acknowledged stinker in their recent catalogue is 2002's "Summer Sun" (although they also released the very good "Nuclear War" EP in the same year, so that year was hardly a total write-off).

The "fine but forgettable" angle has some merit, and I could even feel it developing only two tracks into the album. I listened to "Here to Fall" and "Avalon or Someone Very Similar" and found them to be perfectly enjoyable tracks that I'd be happy to throw onto a random playlist, but couldn't remember much about them even twenty minutes later. Most of the album carries the "nice but bland" air of "Summer Sun", and then someone might as well have shown up carrying a big "ACT II" sign because the epic tracks signal the start of a completely different record. "Fireside" resembles an acoustic jam from the likes of Bardo Pond or Charalambides, within its beatless, zonked-out, dreamlike air we find the only track on the album that truly sounds different from anything YLT have recorded previously. "And the Glitter Is Gone" rocks on interminably, which is both good and bad because I appreciate a good Velvet-y jam as much as anyone, but I couldn't stop thinking about how bored I'd be if I was watching them perform it live (dirty little secret: ALL of YLT's epic tracks are fairly boring to watch live, but on occasion I take some pleasure in hearing them stretch out the intro to "Blue Line Swinger" as much as possible).

The half pop/half jam sequencing is fairly bizarre, and makes me appreciate what they did with "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass" a little bit more. Bookending the album with 11-minute jams was a brilliant bit of sequencing, where the album gets a fiery start, a fiery finish, and leaves them plenty of room in the middle with which to to pack in all the twee/goofy/garage rock experiments.

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