Much to the excitement and delight of music fans around the world, Yo La Tengo has deftly defied standards with its own brand of rock and roll. Abundant, in terms of song titles, song lengths and an overwhelming amount of skill, the group never sacrificed quality for quantity. And you can’t find anyone that doesn’t have a strong respect for the way this trio of musicians handle themselves and the music they deliver.
Popular Songs is ingeniously split into what could be seen as four sides; it’s obvious to anyone that they write their music to the terrific setting of a vinyl LP. “More Stars than There Are in Heaven” has rightfully owned a spot as one of the band’s best songs. Culminating around pulsating guitars, while Ira Kaplan sings his lead melody, Georgia Hubley and James McNew fill the atmospheres with their choir-like vocals. Growing, with the subtlety and nuance only Yo La Tengo can fulfill, its swell is a tremendous one that breathlessly electrifies.
To complete everything, “The Fireside” is an acoustically-tinged gem that finds the band in a reservedly hushed state. Kaplan appears to be singing to himself, with only the faint traces of atmospherics and guitar here and there, to support him. Album closer, “And the Glitter is Gone” powerfully designates Yo La Tengo as supreme masterminds. Influenced by shoegaze, experimental post-rock and everything else under the umbrella of rock, the band shakes and rattles through sixteen minutes of shattering music. With enough reverb and fade to fill a stadium of fans, there isn’t a better way to portray yet another side of what popular music can be.
After 2004’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (an album that is in the running for best album title of the decade,) the band laid all of their cards on the table. Most recently, they showed up as Condo Fucks, a hip band that covers lost punk gems into one scrappy mess of euphoria. And it makes even more sense that they amass all of their ideas and creativity into a mammoth of an album that encompasses everything ‘pop’ is about. Shifting from R&B, to pop, to rock, back to pop and everything in between, this may just be the best album they’ve released this decade.
It’s a near eighty minutes that includes everything anyone loves about music. The slow burn of Hubley’s singing on “By Two’s” is a trademark of Yo La Tengo and entirely singular to their craftiness as a band. Reminiscent of those same burning songs on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, there are few, if any, bands that do this style as good. “Nothing to Hide” riding on waves of a jolly 60s groove, similar to their famous cover of “Little Honda,” is a sublime treat. There’s strikingly fantastic strings fused with belt-buckling drum fills (“Here to Fall”), where the band does their best Beck impersonation. And the lovers’ duet, “If It’s True” is supported by more strings, only these are grand and lush and often, in the style of Motown.
No one can deny their ability and talent as a band. Just this year, they’ve given us two stunningly dissimilar yet equally excellent albums and we’re only lead to believe there’s a lot left to come. There’s so much to love about Popular Songs and whether you think it’s the outstanding collection of music, the superb style choices, the fantastic lyrics or all of the above, it’s clear that Yo La Tengo is winningly superb.
“Here to Fall” by Yo La Tengo
“Periodically Double or Triple” by Yo La Tengo