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Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There


There’s something inherently calming about Yo La Tengo. They’re a fundamentally solid band, the kind who, at worst, release records that you don’t like rather than outright bad ones. They’re these reliable old workhorses whose every album is going to give you a least one thoroughly pleasant gift. They don’t make records that you eagerly watch the calendar for, but rather ones that provide a humble, unassuming announcement of their presence and let you discover them for yourself. Everything about them is decidedly pleasant, which leads us to their latest LP, Stuff Like That There.

Stuff is a cover album in the same vein as Bowie’s Pin Ups or the band’s own 1990 effort Fakebook. The covers are drawn from a variety of disparate sources, ranging from the goth pop of The Cure to doo-wop of The Parliaments to the unmatchable country of Hank Williams Jr. These tracks are reimagined in a way that unmistakably belongs to Yo La Tengo: folky country inflected music with lush, yet somewhat muted, acoustic and baroque instrumentation and breezy, gentle vocals. It has this almost dreamlike feeling to it, as though by listening to something like this all the hateful, horrible things in life can just fade away for a little while. In a nice touch for a covers record, the band turn this reevaluating eye in on themselves and attempt to to reconfigure and rebuild a number of their own songs, including cuts from Popular Songs, I Can The Heart Beating As One and Electr-o-pura. While all the remakes are at the very least intriguing, there is this gnawing sense of redundancy about the whole thing. Did the world really need a dreamier interpretation of ‘Friday, I’m In Love’?

The answer is no and yes. On the one hand, a lot of these songs have this strange aura of superfluity surrounding them. The covers are neither intriguing or vital enough to warrant anything more than a cursory listen. But on the other hand, they’ll all terribly pleasant. They’re imbued with a kind of earnestness and sincerity that makes it hard to dislike. Like a platonic hug or freshly heated duvet, it’s all terribly nice. Even when the band opt to explore some more upsetting and sadder fare, as is the case on ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’, that sense of warmth and welcomeness is never far away. It’s the kind of album that you’ll forget about it after you finish it, but every time you encounter it again, you’ll wonder why you haven’t listened to it in so long. What does this kind of album mean for the band their future? By and large, cover albums this late in a career scream more of an absence of ideas rather than a desire to break new ground. Almost deliberately placed to assuage these kinds of fears, the band included two original compositions, ‘Rickety’ and ‘Awhileaway’. These songs are brimming with a real love and excitement that almost undeniably prove that while Yo La are looking backwards, they’re constantly moving forward. Will Murphy

Yo La Tengo play Dublin’s National Concert Hall on October 15.