Saturday, February 23, 2013

Song of the day

"Ohm", by Yo La Tengo.

I probably don't mention Yo La Tengo anywhere near as often as they deserve; it seems like every three years since forever a new YLT album has appeared, each as compelling in its own way as the ones that came before, and yet each is as familiar as a favourite old, worn blanket.

What is the difference between YLT and bands like Sonic Youth or Stereolab? Each of them have had long, stellar careers. Their later albums are in no way inferior to the earlier works that made their names, and in every case are instantly recognisable as the work of nobody else but them. Nevertheless, there is no reason why you would listen to, say, "Murray Street", good and all as it is, when you could be listening to "Daydream Nation" for the gazillionth time. Likewise Stereolab (insert equivalent comparators here). Not so Yo La Tengo: it seems, with them, that no matter how many times, when listening to whatever at the time is their brand new record, you can play "name the older YLT song this corresponds with", their most recent album is always the one you want to listen to. No, I can't explain it. Perhaps the three year gaps are the secret ingredient.

"Fade", the new one, is no different. Familiar Yo La Tengo tropes abound. There's the "Season of the Shark" song. The "Sugarcube" one. The "Autumn Sweater" one. The ones (happily) that bear distant echoes of my personal favourite YLT album, "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out", with its crepuscular Gregory Crewdson cover photograph and matching aural mood. (Their cover art is always first rate, too. These folks have impeccable taste. And speaking of Stereolab, I should mention that production this time is by John McEntire, who was largely responsible for the sound of a high number of essential Stereolab records.)

"Ohm" is a good way into the album. It is basically a circular, mantra-like riff that runs through a number of, let's call them verses anyway, before Ira finally lets loose some of the feedbacked guitar you've been waiting for, then the vocals come back, it builds a bit, then stops. In under seven minutes it, like the whole of the album, is relatively concise by YLT standards (the album probably clocks in a good 30 minutes shorter than most!). You would imagine that they could easily have run it out to 15 minutes with no diminishing returns. (I am surprised to note that the live versions that presently appear on YouTube are, if anything, shorter than the recorded version.) This restraint, I think, works in its, and the album's, favour. "Refreshing" doesn't just apply to fizzy soft drinks.

And I apologise if noting that the underlying structure of the song bears the slightest resemblance to "Son of the Father" spoils anybody's enjoyment of it.