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|1. Nuclear War - Yo La Tengo|
You gotta hand it to Yo La Tengo, the Hoboken trio and Downtown music darlings, who else would do a cover EP of one of the most obscure songs from out jazz genius and oddity Sun Ra? Nuclear War originates on a Sun Ra recording from the 1982, which was released by an obscure British punk label. Distribution of the funky, pre-hiphop era rap song was minimal to say the least, but made a stir among some of the few musicians who heard it. The profile of the cut was raised in 2001 when Atavistic released it on its Unheard Music Series and then really raised when this EP came out in 2002, as the US was gearing up for the Gulf War Redux.
The EP consists of four cuts of the same material, a gutsy move in it's own right, as the Sun Ra song is nothing if not repetitious. The first cut features Yo La Tengo alone, with Ira leading the vocals and accompanied by some deft percussion jams. The second cut features a chorus of children singing the responses to Ira's lead vocal. The primary effect of this cut is the unsettling humor of hearing children swear, and the even more unsettling experience of hearing the children's laughter at the end of the apocalyptic song. The third cut is the real reason I got the EP however, It features a gaggle of great New York free jazz musicians, including several who actually gigged or recorded with Sun Ra. Solos by Sabir Mateen, Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter are worth the price of this recording alone. Sabir is alternatively funky and Ayleresque, while Campbell and Carter dip into some wild and raunchy blues. The final cut features rapper and downtown poet Mike Ladd, remixing the other tracks, interesting, but it doesn't add much to the impact of the disc.
Is this an essential CD? No. You can get a better idea of the sound of Yo La Tengo through many of their more adventurous albums, particularly Electr-o-pura. And the free musicians are much better represented on their own discs. But as a celebration of the close connections between free jazz and indie-punk, this is a fun album to own. (Daniel Carter in particular often credits punk bands like YLT and the Bad Brains for keeping him in work during the dark times of the 80s.) However, be warned, this CD is repetative....I would venture to guess that you will only find yourself playing one of the four cuts more than once or twice....what cut that is will depend on your taste.
The first cover of "Nuclear War" is entertainingly poppy and bright, while the second is different mainly because of a chorus of children singing every other line. The third track is a sprawling, jazzily chaotic cover, with a muddle of clashing cymbals and murmuring backing vocals. And finally the fourth cover, a sputtering, spacey psychedelic remix that just sounds overstuffed.
It's a fun little disc, but not really something to listen to frequently. The final cut is overmixed, and the second one is mainly noticeable because it has little kids joyously announcing, "It's a mother****er!" every minute or so. The third cover is the gem, a perfect blend of free jazz and punky indie-rock.
The sound of "Nuclear" is rawer and more angular than most of what Yo La Tengo now does. And Ira Kaplan does some likably jaded vocals, that help spice up the simplistic lyrics: "Talkin about/yeeeaaahhh/Nuclear war/Yeaaaahhh." Basic political message: Nuclear war is bad, and you are in trouble if you "push that button."
The "Nuclear War" single is entertaining enough, but not exactly memorable, even for Yo La Tengo fans. You may push that button, but only one or two tracks will make you push the "repeat button."