And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-out
By: Robert H.
If Yo La Tengo has proven anything over the years, it's that they are a band you can count on. While this means that their albums are almost never disappointments, it also means that there are very few surprises. Their eleventh album in fifteen years proves no exception. It is the logical and, somewhat, predictable successor to I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, and it continues the band's move from guitar-driven pop songs to softer and longer songs with monochrome canvases and understated melodies.
The opener, "Everyday", sets a tone and structure for the entire album. There is a programmed drum track of medium interest, providing texture to a keyboard drone. Kaplan and Hubley's unassuming vocals follow a beautiful melody, which occupies an unobtrusive foreground. As the song progresses, a shy guitar emphasizes moments of the melodic line, and the percussion gains in complexity, but the transition is so subtle it might be missed, sliding, finally, into a dénouement that introduces a quietly new but perfectly natural fading melody. A recipe for almost every song on the album would be similar- differences limited to dashes and dollops as opposed to basic ingredients. This basic repetition would be intolerably boring were it not for the band's ability to latch onto the perfect melodic threads (not creating but uncovering them as natural growths from the background) and to supply, for the first time in my Yo La Tengo experience, lyrics that are manifest and actually worth hearing.
Despite Yo La Tengo's adept musical sense, the album never really takes off. There are hints that it might, as in "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" or in the cover "You Can Have It All" (which, consistent with Yo La Tengo's Fakebook experience, is perhaps the most exciting song on the album), but things return pretty quickly to normal, engendering, in this listener at least, a little impatience. That's not to say that there are no jewels on this album. Besides the excellent cover, "Cherry Chapstick" is a standout in the tradition of "Sugarcube”, "Our Way to Fall" and "Tears are in Your Eyes" are among the sweetest songs Yo La Tengo has ever wrought, and "Madeline" is an automatic candidate for samplers and mix-tapes.
Many of the songs would be much better in isolation, actually. Oddly enough, the whole here seems less than the sum of its parts. This fact, I think, can be explained by the overall sense that Yo La Tengo is taking no risks. There are modifications to the tried and true: keyboards play more of the "sound-canvas" role that used to be filled by guitars, and programmed tracks replace Hubley's drum kit, but these are not risks. If anything, these feel like conservative modifications. The only sign I see of advancement for the band is in Hubley and Kaplan's increased confidence in their lyrical and vocal ability. This is progress, but it needs to be paired with more adventurous music if Yo La Tengo is going to hold the interest of its listeners.