Yo La Tengo - Stuff Like That There

by Sean Hewson Rating:6 Release Date:2015-08-28

Stuff Like That There, a sequel of sorts to Yo La Tengo’s 1990 album Fakebook, is a collection of cover versions, including covers of some old Yo La Tengo songs.

My problems with this album are clearly down to personal opinion as they are intentional on Yo La Tengo’s part. Firstly, the sound palette is very simple - reverbed guitars, bass, brushed drums, quiet vocals; quite like The Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session or Low. Although the playing is tasteful, and the singing lovely – the voice, unlike the rest of the body, must improve with age - I find that, with the arrangements being so simple, a lot of it just washes over me. I’m most interested when the tastefulness slips, as with their harmonies (especially on Somebody’s In Love) which are kind of wrong but better for it. Stylistically, many of the songs (even the recent ones) come from a pre-Beatles era - that early pop/rock’n’roll/country sound. Again, I’m most interested when this is slightly subverted by a more obviously post-JFK chord progression, like on Friday I’m In Love, Automatic Doom or the Yo La Tengo songs. Rickity (one of two new songs here (the other is Awhileaway), is beautiful. Where some of the other songs on Stuff Like That There  are soporific, Rickity is trance-like, like something from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

Another problem I have with this album is with the use of cover versions. It’s not Yo La Tengo’s fault, but there are just too many around. How many ‘80s hits have been slowed down and re-arranged for piano and female voice to accompany adverts or emotional moments in Hollyoaks? You could even see Yo La Tengo’s version of Friday I’m In Love getting swept up in that. I sometimes find it hard to see the point in cover versions unless they’re introducing something new – a new way of hearing a song, like Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, or a new song altogether. I don’t hear much of the former here but there is plenty of the latter – Antietam, Great Plains and Special Pillow are all new bands to me. In the case of Special Pillow, I will be checking them out further as Automatic Doom is one of the best songs on this album.

There is a lot to recommend on Stuff Like That There – the playing is classic and tasteful but still obviously Yo La Tengo. The singing is beautiful. The new tunes are great. But it just doesn’t work for me. Too much of it just passes me by. There is also a conflict here for me in that Yo La Tengo are not being the band that I want them to be, but I also understand that that in itself is something that I admire about Yo La Tengo. It’s just not for me. Not this time.

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