Yo La Tengo still has it
The eighth annual San Diego Music Thing is just over two months away. The four-day music festival/conference will present its daytime panels, guest speakers and hundreds of nighttime performances in multiple locations this November.
In addition to iconic speakers (Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and DJ/musician Moby have anchored the event in the past), bands including The Joy Formidable, Viet Cong, The Album Leaf, and No Age are set to perform.
Headlining the event is veteran indie trio Yo La Tengo. And the intrepid three-piece (actually four, with founding guitarist Dave Schramm now back) just released a new album.
Although the band hasn’t exactly stated it officially, “Stuff Like That There” is definitely a celebration.
Not only did Yo La Tengo recently hit the 30-year mark of making music, “Stuff Like That There” bears an eerie resemblance to the group’s 1990 breakthrough, “Fakebook” - an album that turns 25 this year.
Just like “Fakebook,” “Stuff Like That There” is a gorgeous hodge-podge of covers, re-workings of the band’s own songs, and originals.
It’d be easy to write off a collection like this from most groups that have been around longer than many of their contemporaries have been alive. But most groups aren’t Yo La Tengo. And these songs aren’t studio rejects.
The new album’s covers (The Parliaments, Sun Ra, The Lovin’ Spoonful, etc.) again showcase the quartet’s innate ability to coherently re-imagine and connect songs from wildly varied sources.
Drummer/vocalist Georgia Hubley makes The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love” and Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” sound like sides of the same single, and she beautifully turns the doo-wop of Darlene McCrea’s “My Heart’s Not In It” into dusty, AM-radio twang.
An update of “Deeper Into Movies,” from 1997’s “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One,” swaps the percussion-heavy and feedback-filled prototype for a backdrop of atmospheric instrumentals that showcases its harmonized vocals.
There are only a handful of originals and remakes included, but each fits snugly between the covers, making the album’s 46-minute running time feel breezy.
Of course, it’s all designed to accommodate the band’s new set up: James McNew switching to stand-up bass, and all others stripping down their stations.
Yo La Tengo has been flirting with acoustic sets for a long time now. “Stuff Like That There,” along with their current world tour, just confirms that it’s actually a full-time relationship.
I, for one, couldn’t be happier for them.
“Stuff Like That There” is out now on Matador Records.
San Diego Music Thing presents Yo La Tengo at The Observatory North Park on Nov. 12. Blitzen Trapper opens the show.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.