13 September 2009

A Conversation about Yo La Tengo
Books are scattered throughout the room, and and an ashtray in the corner contains at least forty nubbed out cigarette butts. Albums abound the space, taking residence in between mounds of clothes which he assures me are all totally clean. Empty beer bottles line his desk, and the only other object on the desk is a battered pair of glasses. After a long pause, he slowly turns around and asks me if I would be interested in listening to some Yo La Tengo. I enthusiastically agree, and he gives a slight nod before bending over to rummage through the albums on the ground. Finally, he re-emerges with a yellow record in hand. 
"The powers that be at Pitchfork gave this album a 9.7 out of 10," he said.
"Is that legit praise, or is it like those times where they heap praise on R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" video series?," I asked.
He laughed slightly. "Nah. It's the real deal. This album is a banger," he assured me. He continued. "The first song is called 'Return to Hot Chicken', and it's a real short song, but what it does is it gives us a glimpse of what we're about to get into."
"And, what exactly are we about to get into?," I asked. 
"We're about to embark on a trip. Yo La Tengo bounce back and forth between short songs and fairly long ones. Sometimes, they feel like playing longer. There's noise, but there's also folk. There's dreamy guitar, but there's also this quasi punk rock electro sound to it. A lot of instruments are utilized, but there's still only three cats in the band," he said. "Oh, and 'Sugarcube is just like the most awesome, most perfect song in the world," he added.
"Yeah, it's a real ideal sound for just about anytime," I said.
"Did you know that they've soundtracked movies before?," he asked. "It's like they just know exactly what should be playing at any given time," he added before going into a mini rant. "I once read that when they were making the movie, Juno, the original plan was to have the entire soundtrack be nothing but Yo La Tengo. Not to be an asshole, but I think that would have seriously helped that turd of a movie. All the snarky dialogue, and now look what's happening. Teenage girls are having babies left and right. Remember the days of the good old fashioned abortion?," he asked and flashed a wry smile.
"Oh, so you're going there are you?," I asked. If someone is going to take it to that level then there has to be a retort of some kind. He shrugged his shoulders, and pulled out another smoke. I figure that this may be one of the few times where I could get a few words in before he goes on another rant. "I'm really digging this song 'Deeper Into Movie'. It's a pretty fearless song. Fearless may be a strong word, but it may be an apt one to use because this song is definitely not timid," I said. He shrugged his shoulders again, and gazed out the window. After a few long moments, he touched back down to earth.
"Is 'Stockholm Syndrome' a song about love? I'm not sure, but it would be awfully clever if that was the case. You know? Since the whole thing comes from finding love in the wrongest of wrong places, and the song itself is such a lovely little ditty," he said.
"It could be. I try not to dwell on those sort of things," I said, not wanting to anger him while he was in this passive demeanor. He stoically took another drag off his cig, and then stamped it out. 
"I just love the song title 'Autumn Sweater'. It's so fitting. It's a song that has a lot going on, but they're talking about the comfort of a sweater so it becomes instantly more familiar even if you've never heard the song before. This is a Yo La trait, in general. It all just seems so familiar and necessary. In terms of listenability, they're right up there with the Velvet Underground," he said. He takes a deep breath, and begins again. "If you were lazy then you would just lump Yo La into the same category with Pavement and Sonic Youth and Sebadoh and Dino Jr, but they are really their own band. They have elements of all those bands in their sound, but it comes out in such a way that it is undeniably Yo La Tengo," he said.
"I hadn't really thought about it like that," I said. "I once wrote a poem about a closet full of sweaters, though."
"This song 'Little Honda' kind of has a late Lou Reed vibe to it, but I might be wrong. I just saw that movie, Adventureland, and Yo La did the soundtrack for it, and in the movie there are constant references to Lou Reed. So maybe, that's where I'm getting this feeling from," he said. I'm starting to become slightly blown away by all this knowledge that he is dropping. The most insightful thing that I've come up with this whole time is that Yo La Tengo is totally awesome for having cricket sounds at the beginning of "Green Arrow". 
He gets quiet again, and it stays that way for awhile. It seems like the album is wrapping up, and a new track begins and it immediately grabs my attention. I grab the record, and turn it over to consult the track listing so that I can learn the name of this grand new song. The track is called "We're an American Band", and I can't help but laugh about this. I know what the other song of the same name sounds like, and it makes me very glad that this song sounds nothing like that one. This is such a no frills song, and there's nothing bullshit about it. What a refreshing change of pace. 
Neither one of us say another word as we let the album play out. When it ends, he merely reaches over and starts it back up from the beginning again. Well, we didn't get a whole lot accomplished but I still wouldn't call it a wash.

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