Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Mike Mantin 07/09/2009

Rating: 4/5

As Yo La Tengo reach their sixteenth album and twenty-fifth year, the end seems nigh. Not in the usual sense of fizzling out into indie-rock old age, though: they appear to be cramming so many ideas and styles into their recent albums as possible, seemingly in preparation for some kind of implosion. Gone is the uniform sedateness of previous albums And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out or the relaxed vibes of Summer Sun. Their recent work (not including this year's fuzzy covers record as the Condo Fucks) has been borderline schizophrenic.

'Popular Songs', like its better-named predecessor I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, could be mistaken for a mixtape were it not for Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's trademark breathy vocals. As ever, Yo La Tengo's music nerd credentials are paraded about through the variety of loving homages. 'Periodically Double Or Triple' - the first mp3 released from the album - is possibly the first YLT song that could ever be labelled 'boogie', with its bluesy rhythm and 'Green Onions' organs. Elsewhere, 'If It's True' is a note-perfect Motown pastiche, and also the most adorable duet they have ever recorded.

The true highlights of 'Popular Songs' come when the band match their magpie tendencies with master songwriting and atmosphere-building. Opener 'Here To Fall' is all '70s soul strings, paired up with one of their finest songs in years. Ira kieeps an epic song understated through his soft vocals, whispering the comforting but dark, "I know you're worried/I'm worried too/But if you're ready/I'm here to fall with you" while the stirring strings and keys bubble away. The later instrumental tracks - notably the stunning 'The Fireside' which is reminiscent of their gorgeous film soundtracks - also do a fine job of creating a diverse range of moods, though why the album ends with three epics of nine, eleven and sixteen minutes is anyone's guess.

Still, even with a draging end and a tendency for thievery, Yo La Tengo continue to avoid any kind of saminess, even as they hit their silver jubilee. These songs may sometimes resemble pastiches and parodies, but who wouldn't want them to create twelve new pigeonholes rather than comfortably curl up in one?