(three and a half stars, rounded up because Yo La Tengo deserve every benefit of the doubt.)
Yo La Tengo are back with their proper follow-up to their 2000 masterpiece "And then nothing turned itself inside-out," and I'll warn you now: if that one was too soft for you, don't dare waste your money on Summer Sun.
Instead of returning to the eclectic sound of their earlier records, the Hoboken trio have carved another record of tender subtly and grace. The problem here is that the sweetness is not anchored by anything darker and more brooding, which is what made "And then Nothing..." succeed so completely.
This record sacrifices the cerebral to maintain a constant mood, and the result, though utterly grogeous in moments, does not better Yo La Tengo's previous ground. Both "And then nothing..." and 1997's brilliant "I can feel the heart beating as one" NEVER had washover moments. Though rarely keeping a completely consistant mood, I would argue that every single song on those records was a winner.
This is simply not true of "Summer Sun"- the meandering 10 minute+ "Let's be Still" has yet to keep my attention, and I am a patient music listener. I love Ira, but "Nothing but you and Me" has to be one of his worst vocal performances in recent history- it feels like re-hashed, b-side "And then nothing" material, as he pleads to try again at a failed relationship. "Don't have to be so sad," as well, is a bit too sparse to not become simple background noise, if lovely background noise.
And NO rock at all?? I understand evolution for bands, but "Cherry Chapstick" was GLORIOUS drone, and that was only a few years ago! We have absolutely nothing of remotely upbeat nature here. That gets me down, I hate to say.
That said, there are a handful of total winners here. "Beach Party Tonight," the excellent drony opener, feels like a world of possibilities in three minute's time. Georgia is, for the most part, totally on vocally with these tracks- "Little Eyes," and "Today is the Day" are beautiful in every sense. And the closing "Take Care," as many reviews have said, is a trancendent 2-and-a-half-minute cover that points to even better times on the next record.
So what does this all add up to? "Summer Sun" is at once a lovely album and one of Yo La Tengo's less successful. But this confirms even more just how amazing this group is, that even a slight backstep is a gorgeous listen. And Yo La Tengo are still one of the most consistant and wonderful bands indie rock has to give us.