It was always going to be a hard act to follow. The title of Yo La Tengo’s 2006 LP, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, sits at the pinnacle of my exhaustively researched; top-ten-album-titles-in-history-EVER-super-chart.
I.A.N.A.O.Y.A.I.W.B.Y.A was also noteworthy given that Yo La Tengo’s sound might best have been associated with a kind of low-key, shoe gazing dreaminess. They were certainly not obvious candidates for the brilliant wall of aggressive guitar which opens that album, under the moniker ‘Pass the Hatchet’.
The reason I’m banging on about I.A.N.A.O.Y.A.I.W.B.Y.A is not just because the New Jersey 3 piece's new release clearly doesn’t make the cut for my chart. It's also that the album is not as good as its predecessor, period.
But that’s as far as the criticism goes. The album title may indeed redeem itself after all in terms of accuracy; much of the music here deserves to be popular. The songs are good, by turns romantic and melancholy but generally minus the rocking teenage swagger of 2006.
There are exceptions, Nothing To Hide, and the album’s closing track (a 15 minute guitar jam) And The Glitter Is Gone, dish out plenty of energy and angry chords. For the most part, however, the band act their age (this is their 12th studio album). On stand-out tracks When it’s Dark and More Stars Than There Are In Heaven, they stick to reflective and wistful; plenty of harmonies, strings, organ and gentle acoustic guitars.
Whereas I.A.N.A.O.Y.A.I.W.B.Y.A was bookended by the band’s trademark long playing epics, Popular Songs saves both until last; And The Glitter Is Gone preceded by, The Fireside. The latter track may remind you a little too much of the busker in the high street you’ll have heard, riffing chords and peddling the reverb on his slide guitar. Regardless, this is a haunting instrumental clocking in at over 11mins and entrancing for every one of those.