16 “The Power of Jazz”
This song, granted, does have one thing commendable about it: you get a narrative of Ira Kaplan professing that “I thought I’d go to New York / And see what Doug was up to”. This little anecdote is perhaps marginally entertaining because it implies the proximity of YLT’s native Hoboken, New Jersey to “the city,” The Big Apple, if you will, and it shows how they just call it “New York” — not some secret jargon like “Bodega-ville” or anything like that. I originally owned it on and culled it from the band’s 2005 best-of gargantuan A Smattering of Scintillating Senescent Songs.
15 “Did I Tell You”
“Did I Tell You” in all honesty is a fairly pedestrian indie-folk number, with one possible concession you could make to it: this is basically the exact instrumentation blueprint Pavement would take up for some of their classic work like “Father to a Sister of Thought” on Wowee Zowee and other parts of that essential album. It basically sounds like the exact same spare strategy of drumming and drapery of that steely-sounding guitar (not sure off hand if it actually is a lap steel or not, my apologies).
14 “Sometimes I Don’t Get You”
“Sometimes I Don’t Get You” shimmies in from 2007’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A**, which generally fared pretty strongly on this mix. Ira Kaplan’s dainty falsetto calls for certain moods specifically, in all likelihood, but I like this track’s utilization of piano as well as the bare, simple chord progression which happened to pleasantly remind me of “Citizens” on Wilco’s new album Ode to Joy.
13 “The Room Got Heavy”
Lots and lots of things propel “The Room Got Heavy” into the noteworthy stratosphere it’s in — bass synth, copious bongos and a treated, trippy quality to Georgia Hubley’s voice as she saunters in and takes command of the song’s vocal realm. It almost seems like a victory of estrogen over testosterone, in general, as that incessant, virile bass synth that seems to govern the whole song is joined by at least one other keyboard which is proviso of shrill screech and also an auxiliary chord basis, for the song’s wordless chorus.
12 “Beanbag Chair”
Always a fan of any big, soft object on the floor you just jump on like you’re a little kid, I position “Beanbag Chair” about median amongst the eclectic and hard-cutting I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A** for its droll simplicity and way of smoothing the album along by being rhythmic but not trying to be funky or hog the attention too much.
11 “I Feel Like Going Home”
“I Feel Like Going Home” would be the sublime, placid masterpiece track three of the aforementioned I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A**, with Georgia Hubley manning the helm with textural beauty on vocals. “For now”, croons Hubley, “I want my feet on the ground”, before returning to the repeated theme of “I feel like going home”, the whole thing culminating in a stately but tender piano mantra draped in haunting strings.
10 “I Heard You Looking”
We’ve heard it countless times — the best songs start out as just jams among all the band members, with the band then paring down the overall beast, structuring it and picking the best parts to be the actual song. “I Heard You Looking” is sort of like an epitome of that rule but one where the band just forgot to do the last three things. For all its instrumental rock primitiveness, though, it more than gets by on the beautiful balance Ira Kaplan employs on guitar of atonal feedback and melody, the latter of which being rendered in this beautifully syncopated and incessant riff peppered throughout the whole song.
9 “Blue Line Swinger”
“Blue Line Swinger” is certainly a similar animal to “I Heard You Looking” — it’s a long, instrumental song of “experimental rock” with no lyrics. I personally give it the nod to “I Heard You Looking” on a couple counts — the melodic riff Kaplan establishes on lead guitar tends to bend and tweak the chord progression just a bit more, not quite as textbook on the note selection. And then, of course, there’s that Hammond organ, which sounds like it was channeled through a blue whale’s vocal chords, with some sort of distortion going on either in the amp itself or some outer unit, but which would definitely cement this band as a bona fide “experimental” unit, laying down these jams as sonic rubrics for other bands to confer with and follow for decades to come.
8 “You Can Have it All”
Almost in place of a bass line, “You Can Have it All,” arguably the centerpiece on 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself inside-out, utilizes this “bum-bum-bum” background vocal part as a rhythmic mainstay and a bulwark to the song’s note scheme. The message is simple: “If you want / Want my time / Take it baby / And if you want my last dime / Take it baby / You can have it all”, all the while towing that signature Yo La Tengo placidity that can only come across as sublime for how content it is in its own skin, with melodic impeccability courted by supreme songwriting confidence, in this way.
7 “Point and Shoot”
On “Point and Shoot,” Kaplan doesn’t threaten anybody with a hatchet or fists like on other parts of the album, but does declare “I might just shoot you down”, maintaining the reunion of fraternal peace and love we generally have all this album. Hardly very surprising, anyway, is that it comes across as such mellow and pastoral pop, with the vocals especially obfuscated by an assertive and grainy, incessant lead guitar riff, which is certainly the Yo La Tengo playbook in a nutshell.
I sort of have a soft spot for “Lewis” aside from just its music itself because it was written, apparently, by Ira Kaplan, in the wake of the band’s first album Ride the Tiger, which featured a band mate Mike Lewis, for their second album New Wave Hot Dogs (which is the name of an actual hot dog vendor on the East Coast) in honor of said departed bandmate. It seemed that the separation from his old mate, even if purposely initiated and artistically justified, still struck up a melancholy flame in Kaplan’s muse, with this particular tune peppered with an interesting mix of episodic modicum and inside jokes, so as to sidestep the “cheesy farewell” territory with the type of moxie and force of which only Yo La Tengo, you might say, seems capable.
“Upside-Down” features on the band’s ’92 effort May I Sing with Me, an album about which I admittedly don’t know too much (it typically recedes in favor of Painful and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One in the discussions of YLT’s best albums of the ’90s) but stands as a proud bastion and perhaps a bookend to their “early days” by just being a fantastic, simple pop song about freedom and romance conjoining in this enchanted, crazy world of alcoholism. But poppy as it is, it’s far from banal — just check that beautiful climbing-and-ebbing guitar riff that ties the chorus together with proud authority.
The song “Daphnia” on I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your A** comprises leagues and leagues of narcotic oblivion, with incessant, almost atonal guitar that its riff is so simple and amazingly resonant piano that, though spooky, is rendered even more so by its relegation to the back of the mix, as if it really is coming from that esoteric old witch lady around the corner in the dusty mansion. I got the full listening experience of this song a second ago, I have to say, in the natural light in late afternoon on a thickly cloudy late January day in Michigan.
3 “Swing for Life”
Typically anyone observing me listening to this song, or he** even “Daphnia” for that matter, will enter a near-comatose state over sheer horror of how laid-back I am. Ranked in the top 30 on “Dolby’s Top 500 Indie Rock Songs of All Time” (I sometimes dumbly throw that “of all time” descriptor in there clumsily forgetting that it’s not actually the end of time yet), “Swing for Life” bubbles up on May I Sing with Me, giving this album a pretty proud resume what with its “Upside-Down” furnishing, finding Georgia Hubley’s gorgeous vocals just drowned in layers of guitar which culminate in a cathartic solo that’s way more akin to a sort of “shredding” than the richly narcotic vocals would have initially indicated.
2 “From a Motel 6”
I swear to God I’ve been listening to Yo La Tengo and Bob Dylan since the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were the biggest band on the planet and I just today, on the ride listening to this song, made the connection of this song title and Bob Dylan’s “From a Buick 6” (a scintillating, senescent song to be sure in its own right). Now, obviously Yo La Tengo doesn’t rest on 12-bar blues at all, but despite the apparent sociological disparity there this YLT tune does seem to carry a similar sense of urgency, even a romantic abandon, be this YLT tune a little more prospective than indicative, with pleas for romance like “I know your heart is broken / But don’t you think that’s a little trite”. Again, the instance of mellow, narcotic vocal runs exploding into lashing guitar mania in the spaces between words is a signature band component at work here.
1 “Autumn Sweater”
“Autumn Sweater” is such a magnanimous fan favorite and immovable, popular staple of this band’s catalogue, particularly in the critical world, that the a**hole in me just gets the natural inclination to say, oh, “You Can Have it All” is better, sometimes, or go on a petulant search for some song to one-up it. Well, finally I don’t think there is any one-upping the steady, sublime beauty and synth bath of this song, a tune I believe Corin Tucker named as her favorite by the band in some interview or inquiry, a song that’s seasonal by trade but sounds juicy and ripe any time of year, all the more endearing for its seemingly hopeless level of romantic anxiety and apprehension, doing full justice to its plangent musical feel.