Monday, December 18, 2006

First gear, it's all right

#13 Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador, 1996)

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One may be the best mixtape ever made. Yo La Tengo cover vast swaths of musical territory here: from droney beats to fuzzed out noise rock, strummy folk pop, ultrasensitive organ balladry, bassanova, and places elsewhere. They just happened to have written almost all of the songs here (excepting a simultaneously amped up and impassive cover of “Little Honda,” as well as the closer “My Little Corner of the World”).

It’s so easy to take YLT for granted. Witness the recent reception of their 2006 album I Will Beat Your Ass Convincingly and Then Write a Long Album Title About It (not real title). The new record is yet another gem filled with genre-crossing music, but the collective response seems to have been, “meh, well, it’s another YLT album.” We’ve been spoiled by their sheer competency. Their desire to become America’s Greatest Cover Band, to become the Harry Smiths of the late 20th – early 21st century may have made them out to appear as archivists more than artists. But I don’t want to neglect how stunning I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One is. Far from being a mealy-mouthed collection of songs that can’t find its own voice, the album really creates its own space.

And time. It clocks in at somewhere around 75 minutes, and I always think of it as a metaphor for a whole day – a weekend night and the next day, to be precise. OK, so it doesn’t match perfectly, but bear with me (if there are any of you who still read my gasbag posts. SF59 suxx – just kidding! Sorry! I was only testing). The opener, “Return to Hot Chicken” (Ugh – YLT’s titles…) is a brief, quiet guitar tune that exudes the anticipation of the night to come, putting on that one set of cool clothes, changing them, coyly eyeing the mirror, changing again. “Moby Octopad” and “Sugarcube” are the party – getting the swerve on, a little dancing, rocking with the mates at the jukebox, etc. A couple of tracks later, we get the late-night eye-making with that cute maybe-more-than-friend at the party. This is “Shadows,” “Stockholm Syndrome,” and, of course, as the clincher, “Autumn Sweater.” With a song so emotastic as “Autumn Sweater,” the sensitive hero is bound to succeed, and “Little Honda” represents ... well, this song seems to be turned up kinda loud, maybe we can give them their privacy. “Green Arrow” is literally the sleepy instrumental for the last few moments of night, and we know that bedtime was very late, because the next song is a peppy, but not hangover-harshing, morning track called, “One PM Again.” “The Lie and How We Told It,” and “Center of Gravity” continue that Sunday afternoon vibe, though the latter begins to pep it up a bit (this is the little bassanova-y number). And maybe now friends are popping over with burgers for the grill and a frisbee. And maybe even a half-rack or two of a nice unassuming macrobrew, because it’s only about now that protagonist finally comes to terms with the idea of having a drink again. The music gets louder again, and “Spec Bebop” is another long groovy head-bobbing drone. A few more bottles empty and “We’re An American Band” comes on. It’s not that Grand Funk atrocity, but the title is evocative of the laid back classic rock good time (this song might be my favorite one on the album because it introduced me to the previously inconceivable idea that feedback could be gorgeous). This song puts us right in the middle of the party again, but y’know, work does start again tomorrow morning, and perhaps it would be better to break things up and put a cap on a well-lived weekend with a mellow but jaunty song, the slightly-countrified jam of “My Little Corner of the World.” A full 24 hours, but all good times must come to an end, and it’s only a little while before we can start things up again.


Papa Shoegaze said...

you hit it man. another daily companion during my couriership in the triangle. except, i didnt have time to look in the mirror or have any brew.
of course my favs are the quieter #'s 'center of gravity' 'green arrow' etc.
re: 'i will beat your ass...' my thoughts exactly. thats why we haven't got it....yet?

Big Cougar said...

I made a mixtape for Papa S in college that included "Little Honda." There's something so ridiculously rad about the way James sings about changing gears. Also, the genius of "Autumn Sweater" is, well, genius. And you're definitely right in calling them out about awkward song titles.

Sugar Mama said...

I do like Yo La Tengo but, I wonder, is part of their objective to exhaust the listener? We saw them at the Cradle a few years back. They opened with "Nuclear War" (no easing in here) and continued with little or no pause between songs. And it was still the longest show ever! I could barely stand up by the end of it and I was hoping to God there was not an encore. Of course there was.

Big Cougar said...

Yes, if I recall Sarah had to work bright and early the next morning and then we got stuck in traffic at like 2 AM and Bob ended up backing down an entry ramp to get us off the highway and onto Guess Rd. Yeah, my back hurt after that show too, though I remember being amazed that YLT took random cover requests from the audience and then played them. I'll never forget their hard-nosed "Slack Motherfucker" cover, which was made all the more special by the members of Superchunk being present. YLT played a similar non-stop, drawn out show when they played at the end of the second day at the Pitchfork Festival this year. It was so hot and I had been seeing bands for two days straight that I just stood to the side backstage and really didn't get into it that much. Of course, I was also being distracted by the fact that Angus from Liars and Devendra Banhart were cavorting right behind me and trading swigs from a bottle of James Beam while seemingly cuddling and talking about video cameras. Yeah, it was weird.