Friday, November 13, 2009

Tengo's Ode to Pop Music

Yo La Tengo has always had a penchant for the classic age of pop music. Mainly the garage rock of bands like The Kinks, The Zombies and the art pop of John Cale to name a few. Their latest record aptly titled Popular Songs enlists the sounds of these old school pop artists and puts the usual Tengo Twist into the formula. Album opener and stellar psych pop track "Here To Fall" is a beautifully adult love song about the trials and tirbulations of a relationship but in the end you just have to be there together. It's devastatingly beautiful and the epic strings over a droning bass and constant splash of drums really makes it something special. Then there is the Booker T & the MG's style jam of "Periodically Double or Triple" with it's funky organ breakdown and groovy tones. James McNew shines on this album not only as the groovy bass master but on his own poignantly beautiful love song "I'm On My Way." When McNew softly says "Baby that's all" after saying simply that he's on his way to be with his loved one is so minimally romantic. The guitar work is swooping and simple but buttery and sweet. Over the span of the very dreamy album, which seems would be best listened to on a weekend getaway at a bread and breakfast, we don't see the many faces of Yo La Tengo that other albums sometimes have, but it's in the simple beauty that makes Popular Songs so great. The album never picks up too much. The final three tracks, of all decent length, are sprawling space jams. "The Fireside" especially is a minimal instrumental but the shimmering guitars and swoops of ambience paint a picture words could never tell. The only freak jam really comes in the guitar noise jam of "And The Glitter is Gone" at first seems like an odd choice but the glitter and shimmer of the past 11 songs is no longer present during the loud drones and waves of noise. It's a statement that although happiness can sometimes come in, there are dark times that you have to get through. It's the perfect coda to "Here to Fall." It may not come off as the most fun or memroable album Yo La Tengo has done, but there is nothing with creating solid pop songs that set a mood perfectly. In fact, that is exactly what I like about this record. Simplicity never hurts and easy beat pop songs are a welcome addition to a year of all over the map styles and sounds of music.

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