YO LA TENGO
I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One
THE DEBATE continues. Does the best rock'n'roll come from the head or the heart? For Little Richard it would be a strange mixture of God and sexuality. For Kurt Cobain, the heart; for the lost legions of art-rock groups, the head. But this time around Yo La Tengo - formerly to be found among that lost legion - have alchemised a cool combination of intellect and emotion.
Nine LPs in and the Hoboken, New Jersey trio are no closer to the mythical rock Holy Grail of hit records, corporate backing, decadence and the right to behave obnoxiously and still be loved. This has never bothered them. Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew just exist in their own little space. As they promise on their aptly-titled cover of 'My Little Corner Of The World', once you join their club, you'll forget the outside world. It's a club where noise and melody sit side by side, songs are laced with Beach Boys harmonies, and the feeling is of a long summer playing baseball in the park.
Yo La Tengo aren't about escapism, per se. It's just that everyday feelings seem more important to the trio than raging against the injustices of City Hall. 'I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One' is wonderfully sprawling and diverse, with a rock curator's attention to detail and the odd in-joke thrown in. Jokes like the straight-ahead chug-along groove of 'Little Honda', which is sung as a Lou Reed pastiche while alluding to the grumpy one's appearance in a motorcycle advert years ago. Jests like the not-unironic 'We're An American Band'. Or the mirth-making way the LP's lowest point, the instrumental collage of 'Spec BeBop', is constructed around some hurtful feedback, to end up as an endurance test.
Mostly, though, Yo La Tengo are serious, cerebral and inclined to melancholy emotions. Who else would write a song called 'Stockholm Syndrome' and theorise about captives eventually identifying with their captors and vice versa? Or surreptitiously pun on a Charles Manson soundbite ("cease to exist") on the loping Can-style experiment that is 'Moby Octopad'?
When the chin-stroking stops, Yo La Tengo get lighter in spirit. 'Autumn Sweater' is a lovely little tune about lack of communication and, er, an autumn sweater; the riff-heavy 'Damage' takes in the air of an amiable walk on Manhattan's Lower East Side; the frothy 'Center Of Gravity' is a simple lo-fi devotional love song; and, most of all, the other instrumentals are pleasant, poignant, and often drenched in gentle tremolo notes.
The heart meeting the head? An impressive mixture of curiousness and guile, all told.
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