There is no musical tradition like Yo La Tengo’s Hanukkah shows, which resurfaced at the Bowery Ballroom last year after a period of post-Maxwell exile and continue this week as a booth of eight. days of music, comedy and surprises from special guests. Yr covers the correspondent won’t because (a) every night is full and (b) I’m a little 1,200 miles from NYC, but I feel like a festive appreciation is always useful in a sort of secular-jewish indie / beatnik engagement of the WFMU.
I’m starting technically late, but hey, Yo La Tengo is one of our greatest natural resources when it comes to reinterpreting the music of other artists, and if you want to light up the menorah of these eight covers, go- y, even if that means having to bookmark this page for later and revisit it several times during the holidays. I promise: it’s all gelt, no socks.
“Big Sky” (1986)
How long has Yo La Tengo been around? Well, the first time they did a cover of The Kinks, this band was always actively releasing new albums. Think visual was no Village Green Preservation Society, however, and YLT’s “Big Sky” is a pretty good choice for disc connoisseurs to return to the catalog of a canonized band.
A non-single from a commercial flop with an enthusiastic following, Ray Davies’ song about religious existentialism and the indifference of a potential deity ranks as one of the fan favorite songs – as well as one of Ray’s songs, though Andy Miller’s 33nd CD on the album revealed that he once told reporter Jon Savage that he was disappointed with his own performance. “Maybe I wasn’t the right person to sing it,” as he put it. But maybe Ira Kaplan was. He looks a bit shaky here, but it feels more on purpose, both a one-man Talmudic meditation on whether God is listening and a ur-indie performance that looks like him removing his assignments. proto-Malkmus of his system. The rest is pretty straightforward – Yo La Tengo just got on his feet and hasn’t gone the big screen yet – but it clicks.
“You destroyed me” (1990)
Fake book really introduced the popular notion of Yo La Tengo as great performers of all time, even though he’s more or less alone when it comes to albums in their catalog that sound like that. (Stuff like that over there comes back on purpose, but it did show up a quarter of a century later.) At this point, their familiar strengths really start to come to the fore – open spaces that let notes breathe through brilliant reverberation, and a certain Kaplan / floating Georgia Hubley’s harmonic voice / guitar tone that would reach its full potential on Painful songs like “Nowhere Near” and “A Worrying Thing” a few years later.
That they choose material adjacent to unfamiliar and easily reinterpreted folk-pop does them a service; this is a good opportunity to let them try out some sounds of other artists on the way to refine theirs while bypassing the whole you-have-heard-this-but-not-like-this-before iconoclastic course. And damn it, they sound great in power pop, finding the latent Byrds in the Flamin ‘Groovies’ 1976 Beatles debut ringtone “You Tore Me Down” – it’s calmer, or at least it sounds calmer, but after hearing the original and the back to back cover it feels like it’s Assumed to be quieter, the difference between a crumpled paper ball and an origami crane.
“The whole law” (1993)
The 25th anniversary of Painful October seems to have gone smoothly, which says a lot about their status in the band’s discography (The Band We Know first hit their beat, but not necessarily the best, albeit close) or how much that isn’t a big deal, a lot of people think their status of being a constant presence in the independent world actually is. Either way: This album is the two-fer where they definitely brought James McNew to the studio and debuted on Matador, with a number of other core developments of their atmospheric sound falling into place in same time. (Like their decision to incorporate more sounds from the Ace Tone organ, and the lingering impact of tapping into shoegaze and space rock contemporaries like My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized). McNew became the keeper of the steady beat that Kaplan could use as a supporting scaffold for climbing and jumping, and with Hubley’s ability to contribute both percussive structure and melodic undertones, they became one of the best bands ever. to the world to play with the relationship between noise and space in a way that post-Pixies loud-calm-loud groups had not yet fully understood.
Their rendition of “The Whole Of The Law”, by London power-pop-punkers The Only Ones, is a great foundation for them to expand that as much as they can on a quick 2:19 (shorter than the original), stripping the low end, amplification and percussion down to the bare minimum so that the Ira / Georgia harmonies and the chime of Ira’s guitar are enough to carry it. There is a bit of low-key humor in this song choice – “maybe I’m in love with you” is a fun thing to sing for Ira and Georgia when their relationship is so inseparable from their music – but it is. so much the better.
“Little Honda” (1997)
I can hear the heart beating like one was a fantastic indie rock album in a year packed with fantastic indie rock albums, but Yo La Tengo felt more like approaching indie as a piece of a continuum rather than a hiding alcove of the rest of the world. Gender exercise, hell; when they did Krautrock or psychedelia or ambient or Tropicalia, it was a kind of integration into their music that let the style blend into the instinct.
It’s as happy and revealing to listen to as the exact opposite of an afternoon spent with navelgazers explaining their record collection to you, and their Beach Boys cover of “Little Honda” is what they do instead. to wave the Capitol 45 in your face. and laughing “but did you really listen to this. Kaplan brings muted vocals to the point of sounding distracted, but all that really distracts him is how good everything sounds, and does so much with this nuanced performance not as flat as it first appears. that the Beach Boys do with close harmonies. Like many of their love songs, it sounds a lot less like someone who’s excited to convince someone else to have a good time with them and more like someone who takes advantage of those vouchers. moments as they happen. Of course with this overdriven guitar it looks more like a full throttle racing NSX than a 50cc motorcycle, but there are different types of devotees at work here.
“You can have it all” (2000)
A little personal note here: I was a little late on the Yo La Tengo highway, and it wasn’t until And then nothing turned around appeared in a used CD tray in 2001 where I realized “hey, there are a lot of these songs that I love from college radio” and they also had a reference to Troy McClure as a song title. songs I haven’t heard yet, and how’s that for an intro better than ever? (I then had to until this year to see them live, which is another story in which I both feel stupid to take a large group for granted and giddy to get through them at best. Yeah also I know that onion joke, of course, very good.)
Sorry for the downtime, but the fun of this song should be obvious anyway: a cover that comes close to the spirit of the original while still making its case enough that it doesn’t rival the source material so much. that it complements it, and a much-needed re-education of Harry “KC” Casey’s skills as a leading pop and soul songwriter whose pleasures are simple but not simple enough to replicate, let alone rip off. George McCrae’s version is a miracle given by god, a final rebuttal of the Disco Sucks movement five years before it even had a chance to tear up Comiskey, and yet YLT were all “what if we added that bum-bum-ba-bum-baaaa– vocal bumbumbum to it, and also strings “and I always expect to hear them when I listen to the original.
“Nuclear war (version 3)” (2002)
There is “an independent rock band doing jazz covers”, and then there is Indie rock band cover Sun Ra. Good luck with the latter – you speak of a musician and composer who is the direct musical link between Fats Waller and Karlheinz Stockhausen, the one who operated at a level of study and obsession and reinvention to build a level of knowledge. musical which has made avant-garde music accessible to several generations of jazz and rock lovers. But at least Yo La Tengo chose a fairly simple song to cover.
The 12 ″ they released with four different versions of Sun Ra’s single “Nuclear War” in 1984 nods both to his franchise (“He’s a motherfucker, you don’t know / S ‘ they press this button, your ass must go “), its zen-koan stupidity (” What’cha going to do without no ass? “) And its complexity of slow mutation without taking their minds, taking its repetitive structure and giving it just enough variation to build their own things from there. The vox-and-percussion-only Version 1is a great platform for a locked but slippery percussion ensemble, Version 2 gets a lot of fun-based props just to get a bunch of kids (including some of the group’s family) to join in as a choir, swearing and all, and Version 4 is a remix of Infesticons iconoclast Mike Ladd that turns the darkness to a powerful effect. But it’s version 3 that does it for me, right after getting avant-garde jazz veterans Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen and Roy Campbell Jr. (later Summer sun) to bring appropriate longbow horn solos to debates.
“What are you going to do about it?” “(2009)
Not to be confused with Fake book, obviously: The Condo Fucks’ Fuck book, which is a Yo La Tengo album in everything but name and demeanor and… well, pretty much everything else except the staff and a recognized enthusiasm for Kinks and Beach Boys covers.
Hearing the Small Faces cover opening “What’cha Gonna Do About It” is enough to tell you why they decided to cosplay as their own fiction. Connecticut Garage-Punk Crazies, as a first name deposited in the fake Matador catalog of I can hear the heart beating like one liner notes (“Punk rock paraded so smashingly like only bad boys in New London can”). This answers the question “What would Yo La Tengo look like if they were really getting into bump and beer fueled fights that end in lacerations caused by a loosely wielded motorcycle chain?”
“I can feel the ice melting” (2015)
Yes, Yo La Tengo even covered Parliament – but of course they actually covered Parliaments to their Motown-sounding Revilot years, and side B to their 1967 version of “(I Wanna) Testify” to that.
That’s why it’s as fun to have fun with Yo La Tengo as it is to listen to them: those signs of their studious enthusiasm that feel individualistic without being flashy or trendy. The coolest record collection in the world doesn’t mean shit if you don’t take the time to live in the worlds that these records actually do for a few minutes, and a band like this that may just remind you this truth every time is even more of a miracle than a batch of lamp oil of unexpected duration.