January 25, 2013

Yo La Tengo by the minutes

In lieu of a write-up of last night's magnificent Yo La Tengo concert, I decided to create a basic overview of the YLT catalog, which I have been filling out and listening to last couple months. Generally I prefer to listen to and argue about music in the context of albums rather than individual tracks. YLT is not an exception to this rule. Still, having already had a brief back-and-forth over my, uh, controversial pick for best favorite YLT album on Facebook, I thought I would come at their career from a slightly different angle.

I have broken into six discrete categories based on song duration. Within each category, I have chosen a "Best" track and one that I "Would Most Like to See Performed"--henceforth "WMLtSP." Although I recognize the thin ice upon which I tread--my YLT discography remains incomplete--I do not apologize. Argue about my mistakes, ignorance, and perhaps regrettable proclivity for sappy love songs in the comments, please.

Although a fairly small pool, these tracks have a distinctive feel versus the 2-3 minute tracks. 

Best: "Return to Hot Chicken"*
WMLtSP: "Attack on Love"

*"Superstar-Watcher" close behind.

YLT are geniuses of the sub-three-minute pop song. Narrowing these down was brutal, so I have taken the liberty of adding an Honorable Mentions list--along with a couple of footnoted caveats.

Best: "One PM Again"*
WMLtSP: "Outsmartener"**
Honorable Mentions: "The River of Water," "Stockholm Syndrome," "A Worrying Thing"

*I might actually prefer "The Whole of the Law," but chose to disqualify it as a cover. And I haven't listened to "Well You Better" from the new album enough, but it could make some noise.
**The version on the Today is the Day EP. Note that they performed "Nothing to Hide" last night, and it was epic, so even thought I would love to see them perform it again live, I'd now prefer "Outsmartener." 

The slightly more filled out radio-play category.

Best: "Sugarcube"*
WMLtSP: "Watch Out for Me Ronnie"**

*"By the Time it Gets Dark" incredibly close behind.
**They performed "Sugarcube" last night, epically, as well as "Black Flowers."  I liked but was somewhat skeptical of the latter until last night's mesmerizing version (Ira bum-ba-bum-ing in place of horns, James singing "You can dip your brain in joy..."). Additionally, they performed "Little Honda" with a brain-melting, ten-minute wall of sound inserted in the middle--which my father, who attended and loved the show, referred to as "Mars invades" (refer to the >8 WMLtSP footnote below).

This one is even harder to parse than 2-3--my three favorite YLT tracks fall into this category--hence the return of the Honorable Mentions.

Best: "From a Motel 6"*
WMLtSP: "Drug Test"**
Honorable Mentions: "Sudden Organ,"*** "Magnet," "Pablo and Andrea," "All Your Secrets," "You Can Have it All," "I'll Be Around"

*So this is also the song I WMLtSP--it's probably my all-time favorite YLT track--but I decided to make room for others.
**They performed "Our Way to Fall"--my second-favorite YLT track--and although I did not cry as promised in a recent Facebook status, I was definitively in touch with, you know, my emotions and things. Also, their "Mr. Tough" performance was pure, old-fashioned-dance-party fun.
***My third-favorite YLT track.

Once you push a song past five minutes, you are beyond the standard radio-play pop song. These distinctive creatures are often fuzzy, distorted, even sinister tracks. I love them.

Best: "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)"*
WMLtSP: "I Heard You Looking"**

*This is also the song I WMLtSP, but, again, made some room.
**"I Was the Fool Beside You For Too Long" close behind. They performed "Ohm" twice last night--once as their stripped-down, acoustic opener. In that context it was, frankly, a bit of a letdown. They brought it out again later, and Ira turned it into a shredding guitar showcase--not a letdown. They also transformed "Before We Run" from a contemplative, horn-driven, sentimental piece into an anthemic rager centered on Ira's blistering guitar work. The last, say, 7 minutes of the song may have been the best moment ("moment") last night. I genuinely think they could have gone on for 20 more minutes, and I would have remained in transfixed awe. And if I were a better person, I would have followed through on my other recent promise. A better me would have grabbed the shoulder of that nice, dignified gentlemen beside me and slugged him square in his amiable face.

The consciousness-altering, simmering mess--another YLT specialty.

Best:"The Story of Yo La Tango"*
Would Most Like to See Performed: "Blue Line Swinger"**

*"Pass the Hatchet I Think I'm Goodkind"is a close second--meaning that the bookends to I Am Not Afraid... own this category. I also have to give "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" a nod as likely the most overlooked. There's also a remix of "Autumn Sweater" by one Kevin Shields floating around out there that is pretty great.
**Songs that they transform into marathons in concert but that are shorter on the albums don't count. I've already noted the three tracks they did that with--spectacularly--last night ("Ohm," "Little Honda," and "Before We Run").


Blogger Tony said...

This post arrives just as YLT pulls into Nashville. Thanks to a heads up from Tabor, I may be able to squeeze in to an in-store event in which they will be doling out free hot chicken (Nashville's native delicacy immortalized in their music).

Excited about this list. I'll argue soon.

January 26, 2013 at 10:33 AM 
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