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Yo La Tango
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass
Matador
2006
www.yolatengo.com

This latest offering from New Jersey’s greatest musical export is a bit of a gilded lily that, while still definitely in the upper echelon of releases for ’06, seems to suffer from its own ambitions. We’ve come to expect a lot from Yo La Tengo, and therein lay the problem; this solid album that for any other band might be a crowning achievement still amounts to a bit of misstep for a band with so many laurels already. On it, Yo La Tengo touches every corner of their map, offering a conglomeration of all the influences and cornerstones we’ve come to know and love. There’s a couple Electropura-style organ/distortion rockers, a bit of And Then Nothing-ish melancholia, some fluid, melodic I Can Hear the Heart-type cruising music, yet to say that the audaciously titled I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is just a collection of retreads would be an oversimplification. The familiar styles here have been updated and pushed forward with some auxiliary instrumentation and an energetic tempo-injection that some – particularly fans of their more brooding and despondent moments – might actually find disappointing.

There are also a few dalliances into territory previously (and heretofore fortuitously) unexplored by the band. “Hey Mr. Tough” finds Ira Kaplan singing in an awkwardly unnatural-sounding falsetto which stands in clear juxtaposition to the song’s confrontational (though benevolent) lyrics, though when coupled with the chipper pop brass section, can be a bitter pill for fans of less smiley material. “I Should Have Known Better” takes the Beach Boy spirit of Yo La’s “Little Honda” cover and speeds it up, adding a certain element of pop punch that negates the elder song’s Velvety noise aspect. “Watch Out for Me Ronnie” is a lashing rock n’ roll standard, seemingly rockabilly/garage-derived in spirit, but like “…Known Better” is edgeless in its major chords, happy organs and horn breaks. While it’s good to see YLT continuously evolving and stretching their style, it’s also good to hear songs like the pair of 10+ minute psych blasters that bookend Beat Your Ass and are less diluted with unfortunate horns and piano. Die-hard Yo La traditionalists are bound to be a little put off by this markedly more accessible and less arty entry in the band’s otherwise incomparable catalog, however the band has already well staked its place in the indie canon. Assuming this is not the first southbound twist in a downward spiral, Yo La Tengo is still and will remain one of the greatest bands of our generation.

Favorite: Track 3 “I Feel Like Going Home”

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Steve Gunn is a hard-boiled suburban New Yorker with a PhD in rockology and the propensity to point with full-throttle moxie up to his ears and unflinchingly declare, “Hey! These things ain’t garbage cans, y’know!” sisterray@myway.com

 
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