Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 13, 2009

popularsongsI suppose there’s no typical way an album from Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo sounds like at this point, even 25 years into their career. Perhaps the one question a longtime Yo La Tengo listener may ask is, “Well, are there any long songs?” And why, yes, there are, three of them, in fact, that comprise the last three tracks on the record and account for over half of the 70 minute plus total running time. The first of these long songs, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” is a lovely ballad that pairs its male and female vocals with a distorted guitar line that runs through the entirety of its 9 minute plus length. The other two tracks are mostly instrumental, the final track ending the album with a nearly 16 minute acid rock guitar jam. So that’s over half the album, time-wise. What about the first 9 tracks? They’re a blend of indie, psychedelic and garage rock, with some 60’s inspired pop and lounge numbers thrown in as well. In other words, it’s similar in approach to their two recent albums, with similarly excellent results, by and large. I could have done with at least one more rocker along the lines of “Nothing To Hide,” and generally speaking, Popular Songs doesn’t quite rise to the delirious heights of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, but it’s still good stuff. Standout cuts: “Here To Fall,” “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar,” “Nothing To Hide” and “Periodically Double Or Triple.”


touchdownAs a music writer, I try to avoid excessive hyperbole, unlike say, the British press, who seem to trumpet the next big thing in music every week. That said, let me say that I think the new album, Touchdown, from UK band Brakesbrakesbrakes (just Brakes outside the US) is absolutely in the running for indie pop album of the year. The 12 tracks included blow by in a whirl of all manner of rock, acid, garage, psychedelic and punk included, with some country, folk and 60’s inspired pop thrown in as well. There’s also some decidedly eccentric and often quite amusing lyrical content going on at times, too. (One example: “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man),” in which the singer pleads not to be abducted by aliens as he’s found true love on Earth). The band, made up of members of British Sea Power, Electric Soft Parade and the Tenderfoot, were pretty much on fire with indie pop inspiration with this one, and while other more weighty, “important” albums may be released this year, few will be as pleasurable to listen to as Touchdown. Standout cuts: “Two Shocks,” “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man),” “Hey Hey” and “Why Tell The Truth (When It’s Easier To Lie).”


superfurryanimalsThe more I’ve listened to Dark Days/Light Years, the new release from Welsh band Super Furry Animals, the more I’ve appreciated the nutty pop brilliance that invigorates so much of the album. Over the course of an hour and twelve tracks, the band fuses acid rock, shoegaze, electronica, sunny 60’s pop and blissed out psychedelic jams into an almost improbably entertaining and addictively listenable batch of music. To paraphrase a Last FM listener, the Super Furry Animals are one of the few bands that could write a song about trams and then have it as their first single: “Let us celebrate this monumental progress / We have reduced emissions by seventy-five per cent…” Dark Days/Light Years is a great funhouse of an album, multilayered and often epic in scale, a record to get lost and found in again and again. Standout cuts: “Mt,” “Inaugural Trams,” “Cardiff In The Sun” and “The Very Best Of Neil Diamond.”


tapesntapeswalkitoffWalk It Off, the second album from Minneapolis based band Tapes ‘n Tapes has apparently divided fans between those who see this as a progression, and those who see this as a sophomore slump. I finally got a chance to listen to it myself, and I fall firmly into the former camp. It’s a skilled mix of alt-rock by way of bands like the Pixies, along with some acid, psychedelic and prog rock thrown in for good measure, which makes for a very dynamic and all around pretty terrific rock record. It especially catches on fire with tracks 7 and 8, “Demon Apple” and “Blunt,” but the whole album is worth your listening ear. As soon as I finished listening to it, I immediately started back at track one. Good stuff, and definitely play loud! Standout cuts: “Hang Them All, “Conquest,” “Blunt” and “Anvil.”


Superior psychedelic rock from Austin, TX based band The Black Angels: Directions To See A Ghost is their second full length release, and stylistically they fall somewhere between the heavy sound of fellow travelers Black Mountain and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s first album, though stopping just shy of full on retro take on the genre found on the Black Hollies’ latest, Casting Shadows. (What’s the significance of all these bands with similar sounds with the word “black” in their name? To quote Pee Wee Herman, “I don’t know!”) All comparisons aside, the Black Angels have carved out their own niche in an increasingly crowded field, laying on the guitars, thundering drums and bass, organs, sitars and tambourines in an often droning, slightly menacing mix. Though they’re not afraid of long tracks, as the 8 minute “Never/Ever” and the 16 minute album closer “Snakes In The Grass” will attest, the 11 tracks nevertheless go by quickly, much faster than you’d think an epic 72 minute running time would go by. It’s easy to get caught up in Directions To See A Ghost, and though it’s an often pretty dark trip, it’s one worth taking, courtesy of one of the rising stars in the neo-psychedelic rock field. Standout cuts: “You On The Run,” “Science Killer,” “Never/Ever” and “You In Color.”

(Available now digitally, and on CD on May 13.)


Startlingly good second album from British Columbia based band Black Mountain mixes elements from bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Sweet and other 70’s influences into music that’s part hard rock, part psychedelic, part progressive, part folk. Whatever you want to call the result, the soaring male and female vocals, big guitars and synths create a sound that’s powerful and beautiful and so, so very heavy. Though Black Mountain wears their influences on their sleeves, you haven’t quite heard anything like what they’ve come up with on In The Future, which reaches a delirious peak with the epic nearly 17 minute long “Bright Lights.” This is an early contender for album of the year, and it’s not even the end of January yet. There’s not a dud to be found on the 57 minute LP, but highlights include the aforementioned “Bright Lights,” the opener “Stormy High,” “Wucan” and “Queens Will Play.”