Release Date: Aug 28, 2015
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Stuff Like That There is many things. First off, it's a love-letter to Yo La Tengo's loyalists. It's also an ode to bands who they drew inspiration from. In addition, it also seems like a personal statement, not only on their current status, but where they see themselves in the industry in the future.
A full quarter-century on from 1990’s career-definingly tasteful covers/reboots/new songs selection Fakebook, Ira Kaplan’s Hoboken, New Jersey, indie stalwarts are rejoined by former guitarist Dave Schramm to revisit that surefire methodology. At first, newcomers to Yo La Tengo’s work might find the results irredeemably – even unconscionably – pleasant. Yet over this album’s full running time, there is something magnetically insidious about the way James McNew’s standup bass and Georgia Hubley’s percussion knit together material from sources as diverse as George Clinton and Hank Williams.
There’s barely a Yo La Tengo record of which you could not say “Haven’t they made this one before?” One could even say they’re the sensitive, meditative Ramones, if one were so minded. But in the case of Stuff Like That There, it’s more accurate than usual – like 1990’s Fakebook, it mixes stripped-down versions of their own songs with obscure covers. This time, Tengo touchstone Sun Ra is present, not in skronky free-jazz form, but with the lovely doo-wop number Somebody’s in Love; the Cure’s Friday I’m in Love becomes still and sad, to the extent you suspect Monday being blue, and Tuesday and Wednesday being grey, are more important than what happens at the end of the week.
Stuff Like That There is not your typical covers album. Some recording artists, and I'm not saying names, resort to covers when the creative well runs dry and contract obligations demand new product. That's not the case here. In a career that spans over 30 years, Yo La Tengo has applied the same exacting standards to originals and covers alike.
These days, every band seems eager to honor the anniversary of one of its landmark albums, usually in the form of a concert tour or an expanded reissue, and even Yo La Tengo have gotten into the act -- a quarter century after they released their endlessly charming 1990 LP Fakebook, in which they covered a handful of their favorite songs and reworked a few of their own numbers in semi-acoustic fashion, YLT have recorded what amounts to a sequel, 2015's Stuff Like That There. Just like a sequel to a 1980s horror movie, Stuff Like That There follows the template of the original as closely as possible -- there are two new songs, three remakes from the YLT back catalog, and nine covers, which range from the instantly recognizable (Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," inspired by Al Green's version) to the thoroughly obscure (unless you're a Hoboken pop obsessive or a James McNew completist, "Automatic Doom" by the Special Pillows is probably not on your hit parade). Just as importantly, original Yo La Tengo guitarist Dave Schramm, who appeared on Fakebook, returned for the Stuff Like That There sessions, and while his style would have been a poor fit beside Ira Kaplan's clouds of six-string skronk that became a highlight of YLT's work from President Yo La Tengo onward, for stuff like this, Schramm's graceful sound, full of echo and clean single-note leads, meshes gloriously with Kaplan's implacable strum and the steady shuffle of bassist James McNew and drummer and vocalist Georgia Hubley.
There are few more welcome pieces of news to music lovers of a certain persuasion than the announcement of new Yo La Tengo material. For the past two decades the New Jersey trio have maintained a remarkable consistency, building a discography solid enough to stand comparison with any of their US indie counterparts. Stuff Like That There could be seen as a belated sequel of sorts to 1990’s Fakebook, in that it’s a collection of winningly eclectic covers and remakes of the group’s own material.
Outer space country collection of covers, retreads and newies. A companion piece, a quarter of a century later to 1990’s Fakebook, this album mixes covers with several new tracks and re-recordings of album tracks and once again sees the trio reuniting with original guitarist Dave Schramm..
More often than not, bands reaching the 30-year point in their careers have long since settled into a comfortable routine of rehashing old favourites on nostalgic tours that benignly milk the cash cow of their greying audiences. New Jersey’s perennial indie favourites Yo La Tengo celebrated the start of their fourth decade together last year, but unlike many of their contemporaries, the group’s recent work compares very favourably to their late 1990s peak. 2013’s Fade was arguably their best collection since the turn of the millennium, with some delicious orchestral flavours adding a new sheen to their established melodic strengths.
Today is one of those days. I’m working from home, have no plans before a series of late shifts in the office over the entire weekend and I am bored. I slept in until about nine this morning, have watched one episode of The Wire and now, at a minute past three in the afternoon, am still desperately chugging coffee to try and get myself going. Even the cricket is a bit dull right now and I bloody love cricket.
In 1990, Yo La Tengo released Fakebook, a quiet covers album that revealed a crucial aspect of the band’s identity on record for the first time. They eschewed well-known hits on Fakebook, focusing on obscure songs by artists that were often equally obscure, like the Escorts and The Scene is Now, and included a few of their own originals, both new songs and new versions of older ones. For those who hadn’t been able to see the then-six-year-old band live before, Fakebook revealed Yo La Tengo as rock historians with a deep well of knowledge, befitting guitarist Ira Kaplan’s past as a music critic, and as musicians with the skill and restraint to put out an album of generally subdued folk-pop that never gets boring.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. In 2006, when I was sixteen, I had a notion that Yo La Tengo were something important. Listening to I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, I was overcome by a litany of styles that felt scatterbrained only at the point of first listen. Later, it was clear to me that Yo La Tengo all but defined what an indie rock band is.
Yo La Tengo were essentially the first on-demand music-streaming service. Through the eclectic all-request sets they used to perform for WFMU’s annual fundraising drive and, more recently, their annual Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, the band has amassed an infinite jukebox of cover songs spanning golden oldies to underground oddities. It’s almost as if Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley started this band so that they could one day be the sort of tastemaking entity that can rescue forgotten songs from dollar-bin obscurity or subject popular ones to a critical reassessment.
In 2015, ‘Fakebook’ might sound like a satirical slogan on a T-shirt worn by someone who lives for internet memes, but it wasn’t always thus. Fans of Hoboken, New Jersey’s indie-rock institution Yo La Tengo will associate the word with an album the trio released back in 1990. Predominantly a covers album with a few re-recordings of their own songs thrown in, ‘Fakebook’ remains a lush, hushed demonstration of YLT’s heart-melting romanticism and versatility.
Perhaps the prototypical Yo La Tengo album, 1990's Fakebook offered a diverse grab bag of cover songs, spanning old hits, obscure favorites, and reinterpretations of the band's own previous work. Taking its name from bound compendiums of musical lead sheets used by gig musicians to quickly master popular songs, the album's title also implied some measure of sham deceptiveness. In retrospect, an insinuation like this seems even more like a sly joke from a group whose greatest defining feature has been a complete lack of artiste affectation, their sturdy, married-couple-anchored lineup spurning any sign of flashy celebrity pretense.
For years, decades even, Yo La Tengo have inhabited the role of the indie mainstay; "business as usual" could describe any of their albums since the mid-aughts at least. That makes Yo La Tengo sound like a band who sticks to one successful sound, however, which couldn't be further from the truth. Time and time again, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have demonstrated their proficiency with a myriad of styles and genres: sweet '60s pop, driving guitar college rock, gentle folk, and even (and especially) feedback-saturated squalls of noise rock.
The Velvet Underground are a durable rock-band model, one that Hoboken's Yo La Tengo have plumbed over 14 LPs, suggesting where that noisy, lyrical, short-lived group might've gone. The latest is lean, hushed and mostly covers, including a take on Yo La's own "The Ballad of Red Buckets." Georgia Hubley treats the Cure's "Friday I'm in Love" like a fireside singalong; "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" follows Hank Williams' original through Al Green's version with a nod to the Everly Brothers. Interpreting the Parliaments, the Lovin' Spoonful and Sun Ra, guitars shimmering, Yo La Tengo are music-geek lifers you can take home to Mom.
A covers album from a band as prolific and as weathered as Yo La Tengo can initially seem, well, lazy. A band that has already released 12 albums chock full of original material clearly knows how to write a good song, so why should we care when they decide to release an album largely made up of other peoples. Well, because it is Yo La Tengo that we are talking about.
Lord knows Yo La Tengo is one of the world’s best cover bands. Who else has the chops to turn the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda,” Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War,” and, uh, notorious anti-abortion activist Anita Bryant’s “My Little Corner of the World” into highlights of their very own oeuvre, live-request options in their own right? It helps that the trio’s fluency in their own expansive musical tastes makes their covers often hard to tell from their originals; 2009’s “If It’s True” could’ve come from a long-lost soul revue, while 2006’s “Watch Out for Me Ronnie” sent fans scrambling for their Nuggets track inserts. They avoid accusations of operating in their influences’ shadow because they have too damn many.
“My heart’s not in it.” That’s the hook to the first track on the latest collection from veteran indie rockers Yo La Tengo. It’s a bold call for a band nearly 30 years into a recording career to put out an album largely composed of covers, including “covers” of their own songs. No matter that the line comes from a Darlene McCrea song that hinges not on apathy but on lingering love for someone lost, or that Yo La Tengo are masterful cover artists who have done the covers album thing in the past.
Stuff Like That There is one of those “looking back on our history” records, in this case a “sequel of sorts” to a 1990 Yo La Tengo album called Fakebook, in which indie’s favorite insular couple covered the Holy Modal Rounders, Cat Stevens, Daniel Johnston, Gene Clark, the Flamin’ Groovies, and many more, and also reworked originals and threw in some new ones, all in sunny twangy stripped-down alt-country mode. It was all very pleasant. One might even say wearyingly pleasant! Yeah, I have to say off the top that I’ve never been crazy about Fakebook, and don’t enjoy not being crazy over it while so many other fans continue to be charmed by its charming summery charmingness.
Yo La Tengo have never treated cover songs like second-class tunes or set-list filler. For these indie rockers, putting their spin on someone else's song is as creative a pursuit as writing an original. In celebration of their 1990 record, Fakebook - a diverse collection of takes on songs by Cat Stevens, John Cale and Daniel Johnston - the Hoboken band has released Stuff Like That There, another record that holds the cover in the highest esteem.
Yo La Tengo have been in a retrospective bubble since 2013’s well-received but too quickly forgotten Fade LP. With an expanded version of 1993’s sublime Painful (as Extra Painful on Matador) and a vinyl reprint of 1990’s well-loved Fakebook on vinyl (on the Bar/None label) both appearing last year, backwards glancing has been helpfully reminding us how special the group can be. Now appears the tongue-twistedly-titled Stuff Like That There as an ostensible Fakebook sequel; mixing-up obscure as well as not so obscure covers, self-reworkings and a couple of new songs in less amplified settings, with even past member Dave Schramm returning as an auxiliary guest guitarist.
Stuff Like That There roughly simulates the second encore of a marathon Yo La Tengo show, when the casual fans and out-past-their-bedtime parents have gone home and the band indulges in affectionate covers and acoustic rarities. There’s a late-night looseness to the project that’s appealing, if not necessarily consummated by revelatory performances. The album is the 14th full-length from Hoboken’s finest, though the jury might still be out on whether it marks the proper follow-up to 2013’s Fade.
Yo La Tengo — Stuff Like That There (Matador)Stuff Like That There is meant to be a 25-year-delayed echo of Yo La Tengo’s Fakebook, the charmingly tossed off collection of covers, originals and retakes that the band released in 1990, almost on a whim, and which became a sort of cult object. This current iteration draws on the same people and the same casual (yet musically obsessive) vibe, and yet is polished so carefully and subdued so thoroughly as to rub out most of the older disc’s homespun charm. This is not the Yo La Tengo you might have heard on WFMU marathons banging out half-remembered covers with enthusiasm but not necessarily all the right notes.