Monday, March 28, 2011

I'd Love to Turn You on #29 - Yo La Tengo - And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (Matador Records)

Way back in the summer of 2000, I heard advance word of a new Yo La Tengo album and I was worried.  I should have been excited that one of my favorite bands had a new album coming out.  But the description I read gave me pause.  It seemed this was going to be a "quiet" album, filled with slower songs and ballads.  Now at this point I had been a serious YLT fan for about five or six years and what drew me most to the band was their diversity.  Sure I liked the quieter songs they had done in the past, but I didn't want a full album of them.  I still bought the cryptically titled And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out on its release day, went home, put it on and for the next 77 minutes was totally enthralled.  It was just as diverse as anything they've done and, more importantly, every one of the 13 songs was, and still is, excellent.
I think I may have been hooked right when the haunting bass line of opener "Everyday" kicked in.  This song perfectly captures the dreamy quality of the album as a whole.  In fact, the first four songs set the tone for what is to come.  The country-flavored "Our Way to Fall" comes next followed by "Saturday," a moody number with electronic enhancement.  The pace gets picked up a bit by the funky, organ-driven "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," its title an obscure Simpsons reference.  This is probably the best example of the album's ability to weld a variety of styles without sacrificing the overall mood of quiet reflection.
"Last Days of Disco" follows and is one of the album's standout tracks.  A tender tale of shy, hesitant first love set to a dreamy background, it’s one of the band's finest moments both musically and lyrically.  "Tears Are In Your Eyes" is a work of heartbreaking beauty and has been one of the few songs from the album to make it into the band's regular live repertoire of the past decade.  The quiet mood is briefly broken by "Cherry Chapstick," a Sonic Youth-styled guitar rave-up.  Yet it still manages to fit in with everything that surrounds it and does not sound out of place at all.  Further examples of YLT's ability to get funky come with a cover of the obscure George McRae song "You Can Have It All" and the great instrumental "Tired Hippo."
The album concludes with the absolutely stunning, 17-minute "Night Falls On Hoboken."  Yo La Tengo does long, psychedelic jams as well as anyone.  Extended songs like "Blue Line Swinger" and "I Heard You Looking" are what initially drew me to the band.  Here they have created another worthy addition to that tradition while still maintaining the overall mood of the album.  "Hoboken" opens as a fairly standard mid-tempo ballad, then after the last chorus they settle into a haunting groove provided by James McNew on bass and Georgia Hubley on drums.  Ira Kaplan first plays a lovely acoustic guitar solo followed by a more edgy electric solo.  Some trippy keyboard and electronic effects lead into fine drum work by Hubley.  Eventually, it all settles into a quiet drone that fades out, providing the song and the album with a most appropriate conclusion.
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out is a remarkable achievement by a remarkable band.  While many of its songs are just as great individually, it is best experienced as a whole.  The lesson I learned is to always have faith in my favorite artists.  Just when you least expect it, they will surprise you with a masterpiece.  
- Adam Reshotko

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