Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yo La Tengo - Partial Discography

Release Dates: '93 - '06

★★★★★ Tracks:


Tom Courtenay


Sometime during the mid-90's, when Yo La Tengo was gaining popularity, I was growing out of most of the fast, loud, up-tempo, and juvenile punk rock I was listening to, and in to a lot of what was considered indie rock. During this transitional period the band Yo La Tengo would come up often; whether it be when I was browsing the record store, looking at the upcoming show schedule at my local venue, reading reviews, or overhearing friends discuss them. And all through that time I never sat myself down to listen to YLT. I never found what I knew of the band to be all that appealing. Looking back, it probably had a lot to do with what I read and heard; words like "Shoe gaze," "Noise pop," "Minimal," and "Long instrumental jams" often come up. Since then, I've gotten older, my tastes have expanded, and I can enjoy music that clocks in slower than 140 beats per minute. But in collecting every full-length album over the past few years from '93's Painful to '06's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, and listening to all of them several times through, I can say that my lack of interest has not wavered...much.

Starting with the positive, my favorite album of the bunch I've collected is Electr-O-Pura, released in 1995. The album begins with the great "Decora," a song driven by bass and drums and layered with hypnotic chorus-like guitar effects. It sounds like something Sonic Youth might have written a few years earlier. The album also contains my favorite Yo La Tengo song, "Tom Courtenay," a melancholy pop track with an obscure Beatles reference and quote from the film, Help!:

"I spent so much time dreaming about Eleanor Bron.
In my room with the curtains drawn.
See her in the arms of Paul.
Saying, 'I can say no more.'"

The song takes on the first-person narrative of a drug addict wasting away, watching old movies. It's a great song, with lyrics adding to the mystique of possible sobriety issues by the songwriter, Ira Kaplan. There are a couple more good songs on Electr-O-Pura but as is common with most of YLT's albums, I lose interest by the second half.

The other two albums released during the 90's of which I own also have some positive moments. Painful's highlight is "From a Motel 6," with its blaring, distorted bass guitar and lyrics focusing on a troubled relationship. I Can Feel the Heart Beating as One, the album considered to be their best by most, contains the roaring, fast-paced "Sugarcube" and the clever "Autumn Sweater." Unfortunately there isn't much I'll be keeping from anything they've released since the turn of the century. Since then, Yo La Tengo has softened their approach, increased their production budget, and tightened up their songwriting, but in the process they have lost some of the edge and experimentalism that makes me like some of their earlier songs.

In total, I'll be keeping about an album's worth of songs from all the Yo La Tengo I've compiled. I'm glad I found the tracks I like, but being as it took six albums to find 10 total songs, I can't say I'm a converted fan. Yo La Tengo is similar to a well-made, but slow-moving film from a genre I don't fully appreciate; it has moments of greatness and I respect the work, but I'd rather be watching something else.

Similar Artists: Sebadoh, Pavement, Nirvana, Pixies Dinosaur Jr., Smashing Pumpkins
Followers: Yuck, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Broken Social Scene

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