Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

The very first Yo La Tengo I bought was 1994’s Electr-O-Pura, which I did not care for at all. I should probably revisit it, as I love the albums that bookend it, 1993’s Painful and 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries. There are multiple albums that I have bought more than once:  Elastica’s debut; the Trash Can Sinatras’ second album – there are more I just can’t think of them right now.

What I Think of This Album

This is an amazing album, even as it contains a song I cannot stand. Let’s shake that pebble out of the shoe right away:  “Moby Octopad” is annoying to the point of making want to drip superglue into both ear canals. Almost everything else is fantastic. While Painful saw the band exploring new lands, Heart has them simultaneously constructing universities on and sustainably farming those lands, once again with the aid of producer Roger Moutenot.

Brief instrumental “Return to Hot Chicken” barely hints at what’s coming, notably the rush of the appropriately named “Sugarcube,” compressing feedback, organ tones, and pop melodicism into a bite-sized chunk. ”Damage” is slow-walked, with eddies of feedback and drummer Georgia Hubley’s backing vocals making ghostly swipes, while bassist James McNew holds down the fort. Ira Kaplan’s vocals are buried under layers of noise, including a drone-hopping bass pattern, on the hypnotic “Deeper Into Movies,” the spell broken only (and only temporarily) by the unleashing of a feedback solo (which itself gets incorporated into the overall momentum). Hubley gets a lead turn on the downcast “Shadows,” which is a rare weak spot here. McNew sings lead on Neil Young tribute “Stockholm Syndrome,” complete with Crazy Horse solo part. “Autumn Sweater” shows that not even electronica can defeat this band, as they correct the mishandling of electronica on “Moby” with this stunner. The trio takes a Jesus & Mary Chain angle when covering the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” (which is entirely appropriate, as the Beach Boys are half the sonic foundation of the JAMC anyway). “Green Arrow” would be easy to overlook and even easier to have go wrong – an almost six minute instrumental of slide guitar, rolling bass, subtle cymbal washes, tribal toms (eventually), and cricket sounds – but it is astonishing in its sublime accomplishment.

The band eases back into things with the gentle country of “One PM Again,” featuring guest pedal steel and some assured guitar work from Kaplan, who probably struggled to inject some bass into his voice for this song; Hubley’s backing vocals are pretty. The next track – “The Lie and How We Told It” – is not the equal of the others, but it’s perfectly inoffensive. You could write off the bossa nova of “Center of Gravity” as a lark, but that would be a mistake, as the band once again wrangles another genre into its aesthetic, absorbing the rhythm and bending it to its will, instead of the other way around. As a reminder that Kaplan will never renounce the guitar, the almost eleven minutes of feedback, with McNew and Hubley doing the gruntwork of keeping the rhythm going (Hubley at least gets to switch things up every now and then), in “Spec Bebop” is something you either love or hate. I recommend that you love it. “We’re an American Band” is definitely a joke title, but it is no joke how excellently Kaplan plays the guitar on this, sending of squalls of noise left, right, up, and down in what resembles the sonic equivalent of a first-person shooter video game. The band finally rests after the cover of Anita Bryant’s “My Little Corner,” ably handled by Hubley on vocals. This album is a modern classic.

Also, the joke this time is an insert advertising fake releases by imaginary bands on the Matador label, including Habeas Corpses by GI Joe Extreme (though a different album contains the sure-to-be-a hit “International Hate Line”); the original cast recording of musical Heroin! (including “On the Street Where You Score” and “I’ve Got the Horse Right Here”); and the Condo Fucks’ Straight Outta Connecticut.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Sugarcube” is the obvious poppy choice, but I’m going with “Green Arrow.”

Release Date

1997

The Cover Art

I always think this is a picture of a chandelier on first glance. I like everything about it except the gold color. The text and red field are great – the pink on red is a little odd – and the image itself is fine (if nothing special) but the gold tone sort of ruins it for me.

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