Posted by: Dave on November 24, 2006 at 3:00 pm

by Michael Roberts
Music Director @ 91.5 FM WGRE – Greencastle, IN
As posted at

Yo La Tengo Hit Career Peak with New Album

YoLaTengoIAmNotFor the past twenty years or so, Hoboken, NJ based indie rock outfit Yo La Tengo have remained one of the most consistent and prolific cornerstones of college music, releasing an album every couple years that at once explores new sonic territory while staying true to their signature REM-meets-the-velvet-underground sound. The longevity of a college rock band is a minor miracle in itself in this era of three-album bands, but Yo La Tengo’s reliability to release records that appeal to both critics and fans will certainly earn them a spot in indie rock history.

Yo La Tengo’s consistency throughout the 90s and 00s, though, often acts as a burden for the band; critics and fans have a tendency to dismiss each new release as “another good Yo La Tengo record,” thereby adding a given new record to the ever-growing pile of good-but-not-great YLT albums.

Yo La Tengo’s new album, the lavishly titled I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, should by no means be underappreciated as merely a “good” Yo La Tengo record. With this Fall 2006 release, the band follows their rare misstep Summer Sun with a true return to form, crafting indie rock songs that range from compact to expansive, but always remain elegant and beautiful.

The album opens with a true rock epic, the 11 minute “Pass the Hatchet, I think I’m Goodkind.” With it, the listener is introduced to the new album through waves of jams and distortions, reminiscent of fellow college rock pioneers Sonic Youth and Pavement. An 11 minute track is an aggressive way to begin a rock album by any stretch of the imagination, but Yo La Tengo pull it off by allowing a driving melody and rocking guitar solos to keep the song moving. This entrancing soundscape is matched at the end of the album, with the equally long and ambitious “The Story of Yo La Tengo,” which maintains a still broader sonic scope, if sacrificing the melodic accessibility of the opening track. These two epics alone point to the greatness of the new YLT release, containing some of the best distortion solo work since Sonic Youth calmed down, or at least since Sleater Kinney broke up.

Yo La Tengo are not true experimentalists, though; sandwiched between the first and last tracks is a full album of compact college rock gems. “The Race is On Again” keeps a psychedelic groove thumping for its 4.5 minutes, and “Beanbag Chair” uses a catchy piano riff that would feel as comfortable on Motown Records as it does on Matador. The album’s highlight, though, is single “Mr. Tough,” which mixes popping horns and rock falsetto into a modern rock/soul pop classic. Even on its most ambitious album in years, Yo La Tengo still know how to write a catchy pop/rock song.

Also present on I Am Not Afraid Of You… are the soft, touching melodic ballads that Yo La Tengo developed on their introspective 2000 departure album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. Lilting tracks like “I Feel Like Going Home” and “Black Flowers” contrast nicely with the driving pop songs and epic soundscapes that dominate the rest of the album. The three different song styles blend well into each other, creating an album of changes that really has a story of its own.

The eclecticism of I Am Not Afraid Of You… recalls the Yo La Tengo of the early to mid 1990s, when straightforward college rock was still en vogue and albums like 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One could still capture the group’s audience. Now, almost 10 years later, we find Yo La Tengo returning to that same ecstatic college rock sound with an approach at once more mature and more fun.

Because of the decline in popularity of this brand of college rock, I Am Not Afraid Of You…will likely go overlooked on most critics’ and fans year-end lists. And that’s a shame, because with this new record Yo La Tengo hit another peak in the long and storied career, releasing an album that ranks among their best.

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