Matador legends Yo La Tengo have been offering up pleasurable records for more than 20 years, all to the delight of the indelible music geek cognoscenti. Most fans would agree their releases are a bit too lengthy – editors aren’t just for pure writing endeavors – and yet none have been appalling.
Most of Yo La Tengo’s discography succeeds because plebeians Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley love each other about as much as their penchant for easy rock of the 1970s, freestyle experimentation and doodling.
With I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (perhaps the best album title since peers Belle and Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant) allegedly comes from an heated exchange between NBA players Tim Thomas and Stephon Marbury; as expected, there’s nothing violent about the album’s contents. Pretty fun stuff, but a bit too long… much like the album's title.
Yo La Tengo continues to offer more of what they’re best at: big, daydreamy retropop with decorative electronics, freestyle jazz and roguish lyrics. The highlights on I Am Not Afraid of You include the piano/brassy “Beanbag Chair,” “The Room Got Heavy,” an engagingly quirky “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” and the set opener “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind,” which has one of the most irrepressible pop-rock hooks the group has shared with listeners.
If singles (and mainstream radio, for that matter) were still a big deal, and could be bothered with Yo La Tengo, this would be a huge hit. Actually, the whole album probably would be, even though it is a bit too long. Ah, well. Nice problem to have.
Same goes for a recent WFMU compilation featuring some extraordinary covers. Mining the group’s pop tastiness, the recent, 70-minute live anthology called Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics touches on some very rare gems done for that station's fundraisers. Brian Eno's “Baby's On Fire” and the Yes classic “Roundabout” are only the beginning of their “Wonderous Stories,” so to speak. You can pick up that release at their shows and on their website, http://www.yolatengo.com.
Alas, these guys will always be the audio equivalent of Marmite: the people who know it get it and love it… and always will. Everyone else will just wonder.