Music Reviews
Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo

Popular Songs

Matador Records

Hoboken hipster heroes Yo La Tengo titled their 14th album Popular Songs. That can be seen as an ironic come-on straight from the dog-eared hipster handbook but, more likely, the 12 songs are the trio’s version of popular.

The opening track, “Here to Fall” swells and shrinks in all the right places with a gorgeous string arrangement. Singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan sets the tone with his warm yet detached voice that carries most of Popular Songs. Singer-drummer Georgia Hubley harmonizes with her husband on a handful of songs and carries a few tracks in her best Nicoesque whisper.

Three middle songs pay homage to great ’60s music. “Periodically Double or Triple” invokes soulful keyboard scales that would make Booker T & the MGs proud. Hell, there’s even a 15-second interlude of the grooviest elevator music you could hope to hear. Yo La Tengo keeps it modern with the sly lyric, “Judge Judy tell me if I’m wrong.” The intro to “If It’s True” is classic Motown in the same vein as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” “I’m on My Way” begins with similar chords as the Velvet Underground’s gentle anthem “Pale Blue Eyes.” Kaplan even winks at Lou Reed by starting the track singing, “Sun shines through the window/ there’s nothing I can do/ I tried to be brooding and dark/ but it all fell through.”

While you’re enveloped in the warm, mellow music and lyrical whimsy that Belle and Sebastian has based its career on, Yo La Tengo ends Popular Songs with three tracks that test your stamina – by totaling over a half-hour in length. And, really, what Yo La Tengo album from the 2000s would be complete without a 10-minute-plus final song? Muted guitar chords accompany majestic keyboards and strings on “More Stars Than There are in Heaven.” Kaplan and Hubley pepper the song with the lyrics “We’ll walk hand in hand.” Kaplan’s voice enters “The Fireside” after eight minutes and stays with the gurgling guitar for only 50-some seconds before leaving. The final track “And the Glitter is Gone” is a 16-minute freakout of controlled chaos and only James McNew’s bass line threading the entire thing together.

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