Yo La Tengo – President Yo La Tengo / New Wave Hot Dogs

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Reissues are great, undeniably. They provide new life to old music, give context to the present, educate listeners, and serve as a financial benefit to the artist (one hopes). When the reissue packages multiple offerings together, all the better. The Matador reissue of what is either YLT’s second album and an EP, or their second and third albums, is a strong example of this. I particularly appreciate the color-coded liner notes and track listings. What I do not understand is the sequencing. New Wave Hot Dogs was the second album, released in 1987. President Yo La Tengo came out in 1989. On the reissue, President Yo La Tengo comes first, followed by New Wave Hot Dogs, all capped off by the A-side of The Asparagus Song single, also from 1987. That aside, the truth is that neither of these is essential. This is not what is going to make you a Yo La Tengo fan, but they are fun for established fans.

What I Think of This Album

New Wave Hot Dogs 

“Clunk” is inaptly named, because the guitars instead clang throughout this feedback-tinged burner, complete with barbed solo. The band gets more contemplative on the slowly rolling “Did I Tell You,” and while Ira Kaplan’s vocals are not perfect, they are endearing. Weirdness ensues on the noisy “House Fall Down,” but conventionality returns on the conversational (it discusses the band America), nervous, bass-loped “Lewis.” A quick instrumental follows before a Velvet Underground cover appears – “It’s Alright (The Way You Live),” which would not see official release by that band[‘s record label] until 1995. The track that follows is nothing special. Clearly, we have hit the negligible portion of the album.

Kaplan’s guitar once again takes center stage (though Dave King of Bongwater is also credited with guitar on this track, so who knows?) on the efficient “Let’s Compromise,” a cover of an Information song (a band I have never heard of). An omnipresent organ dominates “Serpentine,” another song that ends before it really begins. “A Shy Dog” features an enthusiastic Kaplan vocal and some quality chord bashing. You can skip the next song and end with Kaplan’s exploration of his guitar’s limits on the skronky “The Story of Jazz” (which references Steve Albini). The tacked-on single is pretty good. Chris Stamey of the dB’s plays guitar. The original album art is silly.

President Yo La Tengo

I have a hard time not thinking this is an EP. At seven songs, it is way too short to be a proper album. Moreover, two songs are the same song – at least in name – and they are actually versions of one of the tracks off of Ride the Tiger, and two others are covers. In terms of new material, there is not much here, quantity-wise. But quality is another story. Opener “Barnaby, Hardly Working” is amazing, starting with a feedback loop that endures for the entire song, and bobbing along to a steady drum pattern, it slowly ebbs in a haze; Kaplan again sounds like a narcotized Glenn Mercer, vocally. “Drug Test” is a catchy throwback to the debut’s sound – jangly, distorted guitar, with laconic, downcast vocals. Then comes the tame version of “The Evil That Men Do,” with an unusual Ventures/Morricone organ part thrown in, that bears only the slightest resemblance to the original version on Tiger, and also dispenses with the lyrics entirely. A cover of an Antietam song follows, which I don’t care for.

New original “Alyda” is another high point, though; Hubley’s backing vocals are reassuring and soothing. The not-tame version of “Evil” is next – a gruesome ten-minute death match between Kaplan and his guitar; again, you would not be able to tell this is at all the same song from the version two tracks or three years earlier. Somehow, Kaplan finds the mental wherewithal to sing (and then scream) a few of the lyrics this time. The album ends with the excellent Dylan cover “I Threw It All Away,” featuring an unexpected accordion (from Speed the Plough’s John Baumgartner). The dB’s are represented this time by bassist Gene Holder, who appears on some but not all tracks. The original album art is excellent.

The Best Thing About This Album

I get two, right? I think “Drug Test” (“I hate feeling the way I feel”), and “Did I Tell You.”

Release Date

1987 (New Wave), 1989 (President), and 1996 (for the reissue)

The Cover Art

Decent. A blurry guitar is fairly trite, but always looks cool. I like the handwritten font and the colors.

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