Release Date: Sep 12, 2006
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Deeply in thrall to the Velvet Underground and their disciples (Joy Division, Sonic Youth, 1970s Brian Eno), Yo La Tengo depart from their influences only to concoct the kind of cult-pop pastiche that raises a chuckle in second-hand record shops. This is their 13th full-length album, excluding side projects, and it returns to their old, more varied style, which was abandoned for the sustained reverie of 2003's Summer Sun, many fans' favourite. Married couple Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, bass player James McNew and several friends throw all their ingenuity into the musical details without ever shaping songs fulfilling enough to earn a place in the pantheon so much admired by Yo La Tengo over their 22-year career.
After the elegant, introspective romantic narratives of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and the beautifully crafted but restrained pop textures of Summer Sun, it was hard not to wonder if Yo La Tengo was ever going to turn up the amps and let Ira Kaplan go nuts on guitar again. For more than a few fans "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," the opening cut from YLT's 2006 album I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, will feel like the reassuring sound of a homecoming -- ten minutes of noisy six-string freak-out, with James McNew's thick, malleable basslines and Georgia Hubley's simple but subtly funky drumming providing a rock-solid framework for Kaplan's enthusiastic fret abuse. After the thematic and sonic consistency of their previous two major albums, I Am Not Afraid marks a return to the joyous eclecticism of 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, though nearly ten years down the road Yo La Tengo sounds noticeably more confident in their embrace of different styles and less hesitant in their technique on this album -- even Kaplan's gloriously unkempt guitar solos start to suggest a certain degree of well-earned professionalism.
When you pop Yo La Tengo’s 12th full-length into iTunes, Gracenote calls it “Children’s Music." And because the record’s been christened with the gleefully juvenile title I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, it seems necessary to take this categorization seriously. I Am Not Afraid Of You does, after all, include songs called “Beanbag Chair” and “Mr. Tough." And before you even get to those, the record opens with a nervous giggle, one of those elegantly simple James McNew bass hooks, some guitar fuzz worthy of the Feelies' “Slipping (Into Something)," and Ira Kaplan alliterating his encouragement from poolside (“Slide, slide, slide, down the waterslide”).
Solid Yo La Tengo albums are like solar eclipses – they don't happen often and can burn your retinas. After the scorching 10-minute opener, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," Hoboken, N.J., and NPR's favorite rock band has reached a new moon. As guitarist Ira Kaplan's falsetto feeds the cowbell on "Mr. Tough" and drummer Hubley whispers sweet psych nothings on "The Room Got Heavy," the trio's first album in three years, helmed by longtime producer Roger Moutenot, casts a long shadow.