With a title like "I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass," it seems like an understatement to say that veteran indie-rock band Yo La Tengo are feeling confident.
And Yo La Tengo stick to what works after twenty years of indie-rocking, with a Velvet Underground vibe, solid pop tunes, noisy rockers and some wildly engaging jazzy experimentals. They know what they do well, and they do it as well as ever in their tenth album.
They take a bit of a risk in the opening number, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," a sprawling eleven-minute track that noodles through jazzy drums and fuzzy guitars. It sounds like the Velvet Underground having a lazy jam session, until the point where the cycling guitars erupt into a giant riff snarl.
The experimentation diddles around through the rest of the album, but never so strongly as it does in "Pass the Hatchet." They dabble in various other kinds of pop music, sprinkled with country, blippy electropop, retro-sixties, freestyle jazz and sweeping, dreamier numbers, like the ones from their last original album.
The highlight is "Beanbag Chair," which is one of those instantly lovable pop songs -- jaunty piano, blasts of horn, mischievous lyrics, and daydreaming vocals. If you ever heard Yo La Tengo on the radio, this would be their big, big single.
Yo La Tengo have diddled around with all kinds of sounds for the past two decades, usually with lots of success. Just so long as they don't try freestyle harmonica or classical bagpipes, there's no reason to think that they won't continue to succeed at their experimentation.
But they give their music some fresh new twists this time around -- they include silky string arrangements by David Mansfield, lots more piano, and more horns than they were using in "Summer Sun," courtesy of drummer Georgia Hubley. It feels peppy, fun and energized, like these guys were enjoying themselves just making every song.
Frontman Ira Kaplan shows his range in these songs, crooning "You can never sleep enough/and your alarm is going off/you wake up and you can't pretend/the dream is just a dream again," in a smooth voice. He's joined by bassist James McNew's falsetto in "Mr. Tough," which is a bit of a shock for awhile, but which works out all right.
Yo La Tengo are not afraid of you, but you don't need to be afraid of their latest effort either -- "We Are Not Afraid of you and We Will Beat Your Ass" is an all-around solid little album. Nice work!