Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. In the canon of completely ridiculously titled post-golden-age-of-career albums by musical giants, it's almost but not quite in the same league with George Clinton's 1993 Hey Man... Smell My Finger and the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282's 2001 masterwork Bob Dinners and Larry Noodles Present Tubby Turdner's Celebrity Avalanche (both of which received mention in a previous post of mine). It's a cut above Tormato, though.
I first learned of this album from Douglas Wolk's ecstatic featured review of it on eMusic in late 2006. Until I read that, I'd never been able to get too worked up about Yo La Tengo, who I had always assumed made sweater-and-glasses indie pop that was, kinda serious. (I mean, that is actually what they make - but I think my mistake was thinking that sweater-and-glasses dudes and their indie pop are automatically lame. Some of my best friends are sweater-and-glasses dudes. These particular sweater-and-glasses dudes had to go and call their record I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass to get me to listen, though.)
I played this record a lot when I got it. Wolk's review and this one by Mark Deming emphasize its eclecticism, which is a particular happy-maker for me as well - it's like they took a mixtape and covered all the songs. The album opener, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", recalls the awesome Faust jam "Krautrock" to my ears, with its keyboard wash and shifts in pulse (but why do both Wolk and Deming describe the guitar soloing as a "freak-out"? It rocks, sure, but the dude's glasses didn't fall off while he was playing it. They probably just slipped down his nose a ways). Other highlights for me are the atmospheric, drumless "Daphnia", the gorgeous, floaty "Black Flowers", the pretty, pretty harmonic palette of "I Feel Like I'm Going Home" and the triumphant closer "The Story of Yo La Tango" (sic). It would be a bit of a salad, rather than a delicious stew, in the hands of many - but the whole album, and I suspect Yo La Tengo's entire 25-year output, is overlaid with a lacquer of atmospheric, breezy seriousness, the sole constant.
It is pretty mixed up though. Maybe it's more of a soup than a stew. Minestrone.
I really like Douglas Wolk's writing (this is among my favorite pieces of music writing, ever), though I miss a lot of the aesthetic boats that he's in the front of the queue for. We have an on-and-off association that goes back 20 years (if you've already known me for more than half of this time, as 90% of the people who read this blog have, forgive me the expository indulgence!), and we fire on enough of the same cylinders for him to have released my old band's most ridiculous album (and to have composed a song for it); but his ultra passions, at least the ones he had back in the day, never set my blood a-boiling or my brain a-fire. They were always just a little too serious and not enough fart jokes or something. Now I'm a grownup, and Yo La Tengo has an album called I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, and Douglas is in Portland saying "See Matt? You should have listened to me when I was telling you to like Azalia Snail!"
Nostalgia and naming names aside, if there's a point, it's that I'm not gonna pay attention to just anything that any old reviewer writes, even if it is Douglas Wolk (though if these guys both hate something, I might consider checking it out). Reviews are fun to read, but unless my friend is in the band, I'm not gonna get the record on a reviewer's recommendation unless:
- The reviewer convinces me that it's got something in common with other stuff I like - like they tell me it sounds like some Faust song that I really dig
- The album title has "ass" or a fart joke in it or is otherwise stupidly juvenile
- Both? That works.
Artists and reviewers: bring something to the table, or I'll just keep buying used high school band records, and the new Deerhoof, Marnie Stern and Harvey Milk, whenever they put new ones out. (Man, would you check the artwork on that Harvey Milk record? Handsome! That jet-trail cross in the sky just kills me. Why won't the vinyl ever come out? Delay delay delay! This happened with their last record too!)
One of my first interactions with Douglas was when he called me out in semi-public for "playing the Violent Femmes on the air at 2am" - when I asked him why playing the Violent Femmes at 2am was a problem, his response was that playing the Violent Femmes at all was a problem.
I'm laughing now. And I'm playing the Wolk-recommended "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", considering how good it might sound at 2am. If it sounds as good at 2am as it sounds right now, that would be pretty great.