Yuck – Yuck

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Ah, the strange and kind of sad story of Yuck. Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom were in Cajun Dance Party, an up-and-coming London band in 2008 that I only just learned about and need to check out. After one album, that band dissolved and the pair formed Yuck, recruiting Japanese bassist Mariko Doi, New Jersey native Johnny Rogoff on drums, and sibling Ilana Blumberg on vocals. They released their self-titled debut in 2011, and then Daniel Blumberg decamped for a solo career involving music and visual art. The next album in 2013 suffered tremendously from his absence, and third album Stranger Things (from 2016) found the band regaining the slimmest of toeholds. Still, they officially called it quits in 2021, perhaps a formality given that they had not released any recordings in the preceding five years.

What I Think of This Album

If I didn’t know better, I would 100% say this is an American band. If you’re intent on influence-spotting, the markers all point to stateside artists. From the Dinosaur Jr. guitar squalls to the Pavement nonchalance to the Mayflies-esque power-pop to the churning beauty of Yo La Tengo, the sounds that Yuck so adeptly folds into their music suggest a distinctly American aesthetic. And the ease and assurance with which Yuck does so calls to mind a much more mature and experienced band.

This is a startling debut, filled with expansive and thrilling songs that seem to have arrived fully, not to say perfectly, formed. There are many rockers, such as “Holing Out,” which sounds like it belongs on one of Dinosaur Jr.’s SST albums with both an overdriven lead part and a phased guitar part. “Operation” is chunkier than a pint of Rocky Road, and it’s easy to get lost in the swirling “The Wall.” Of a piece with this slate of tunes is opener “Get Away,” which serves as an appropriate introduction to this band’s love of noise.

The group can also do power-pop, as the gentle and jangly “Shook Down” proves, to say nothing of the even quieter “Suicide Policeman,” both of which invoke the invisible hand of Mitch Easter. “Sunday” is another such charmer. And they embrace classic indie with the boy/girl twin vocals on bright “Georgia” and the slacker vibes of “Suck” and neighboring song “Stutter.”

The album ends with Yuck’s atmospheric explorations. Instrumental “Rose Gives a Lilly” is angular without being unapproachable, and serves as a segue to the impressive and epic closer “Rubber,” which is the best Yo La Tengo mimicry you will ever experience, except with far more emotive vocals than Ira Kaplan can be roused to.

This is one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard.

The Best Thing About This Album

The ease with which Yuck changes sounds.

Release Date

February, 2011

The Cover Art

This drawing is by Daniel Blumberg and I find it highly disturbing. No bueno.

The Young Fresh Fellows – It’s Low Beat Time

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

I strongly suspect I will end up owning a good chunk of the Young Fresh Fellows’ output. It’s only a matter of time. I like bands that are irreverent and carefree but still try enough (at least, enough of the time) to write melodic and clever songs.

What I Think of This Album

It’s difficult to fairly assess this from such a distant vantage point. Low Beat Time was released in 1992; I first heard it in 2023. That said, it is basically what you would expect from any Young Fresh Fellows album:  it’s a fucking mess, but eminently enjoyable. Thank you, Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, for never disappointing.

This one is actually probably more of a clusterfuck than the average YFF disc. It’s got 16 songs, recorded at five studios in three cities, and with six different production credits. Perhaps not surprisingly, this eighth album was the last Young Fresh Fellows record for a good five years (and that 1997 release, A Tribute to Music, was only issued in Spain, supposedly).   

As usual, the best songs are the ones that combine the band’s irreverence with their pop smarts. So, dial up “Right Here,” “Mr. Anthony’s Last,” “Whatever You Are,” “Faultless,” “She Sees Color,” “Monkey Say,” “99 Girls,” “She Won’t Budge,” and “Green Green.”

Notable anomaly is instrumental “A Crafty Clerk,” which sounds like Brian Wilson got lost in the midway of a carnival in Iowa.

Along the way, you can make what you will of “Low Beat Jingle” (a fifteen second number comprised of typewriter, trumpet, and percussion), the schizophrenic but still melodic (sometimes) “Snow White,” the churning and ominous “Two Headed Fight,” the mysterious and hateful “A Minor Bird,” and a reprise of “Low Beat Jingle” plus more in the jaunty “Low Beat.” 

Soul legend Rufus Thomas sings on closing track “Green Green,” which is a cover of a New Christy Minstrels song. Keyboardist Lester Snell (Isaac Hayes) plays on at least three tracks, and William Brown (engineer of “Theme from Shaft”) contributed vocals and technical work on the cover of “Love Is a Beautiful Thing” (the Young Rascals). New York band the A-Bones help out on “Monkey Say”, too.

Butch Vig produced some tracks, as did Willy Mitchell (trumpeter and producer of Al Green and Solomon Burke). Conrad Uno (who worked with Bratmobile, Mudhoney, the Fastbacks, and Sonic Youth) and McCaughey worked on one track, and Sonics engineer Kearney Barton produced the two songs that sound like the Sonics. Doug Easley (Guided by Voices, Modest Mouse, Cat Power, Pavement, the Amps) also contributed to a number of tracks.


Only the Young Fresh Fellows know why the spine of the CD reads Doc Sharpie Is a Bad Man in place of the real title, though Doc Sharpie is credited with the album art. Alex Chilton is thanked in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The unexpected soul influence, including an excellent Rufus Thomas vocal on “Green Green.”

Release Date

September, 1992

The Cover Art

I’m agnostic on this; it’s neither good nor bad.

Yatsura – ¡Pulpo!

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

Welp, this image cannot be made larger, which sucks. Fucking hell. Yatsura was one of those bands that I liked enough to grab their album if and when I came across it, if I could, and if I remembered, but not enough to make a priority. I did care enough to – long after their demise – track down the sophomore album. The band was made up of songwriters/guitarists/vocalists Fergus Lawrie and Graham Kemp, two University of Glasgow students, and the Graham siblings – Elaine and Ian – as the rhythm section, making this band 75% Grahams, which I think is a record.

What I Think of This Album

¡Pulpo! is a collection of singles and B-sides dating from 1995-97, placing it after the debut and before second album, Slain by Yatsura, in release history. Given its disjointed nature and the time span of the song recordings, this is a surprisingly strong release; on the other hand, maybe they were adept at choosing their best material for singles. The simplistic sing-songy “Strategic Hamlets” never crosses over into annoying, mostly because of the blasts of noise that undercut any preciousness. “Down Home Kitty” bears an uncanny resemblance to Pavement in the vocals, a link the band openly acknowledges during the spoken word intro to “Kozee Heart,” which is one of the least Pavement-y songs on here, as compared to quiet “Pampered Adolescent” (which has a great lyric about “Burger King crowns” and a knotted two-note guitar riff) and “Silver Krest,” both of which could have easily been on Slanted and Enchanted. Meanwhile, “Mirimar,” “Saki and Cremola,” and “Revir, plus the last two songs, are more experimental, with hints of Sonic Youth sometimes (and early Boo Radleys on “Revir”), whereas “Got the Sun” is downright pretty, and maybe the most conventional tune they ever recorded.

The Best Thing About This Album

The unexpected beauty of “Got the Sun” is an eye-opener. 

Release Date

1997

The Cover Art

Doesn’t do it for me. Too stark and boring; the orange is oppressive.

Yatsura – We Are Yatsura

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

So, this band is known as Urusei Yatsura except in the United States, and this album is likewise called We Are Urusei Yatsura everywhere in the world that is not the United States. The name comes from a manga, and I am not sure why there are only legal issues with that here. Whatever you call them, this was a Scottish band from the 1990s. They released three studio albums and then broke up in 2001. They were sometimes called “the Scottish Pavement,” which is only a little accurate.

What I Think of This Album

This is Yatsura’s debut album. It’s basically the sound of young indie kids making a loud racket and having a lot of fun doing it. It’s juvenile and carefree, noisy and good-natured, energetic and loose, with a little of the off-kilter and angular thrown in. “Siamese” rushes along on blasts of distorted guitar, as well as some combination of the “toy spaceship, beatbox, dolls, raygun” credited to all band members in the liner notes. “First Day On a New Planet” tones down the snottiness for something resembling genuine appreciation for the feeling of liberation and release, with a melodic bass part and well-used feedback. “Kewpies Like Watermelon” alternates between laconic singing and quick screams. Meanwhile, the first half of “Phasers On Stun/Sola Kola” sounds pretty much like you think it would; the second half does not, with nary a melody and a gangly guitar line that goes nowhere, with some incoherent shouting in the background. The bent notes of “Black Hole Love” suggest the closest thing to a ballad here, but the explosive chorus sort of strains that description. The band returns to more straightforward (within the context of their material) rockin’ with “Plastic Ashtray.” There is more fun noise on “Pachinko.” Shit gets confusing with a twenty second, unlisted track, making the excellent “Kernel” the twelfth track even though it is number eleven if you count down the back cover (and the dark, riffy “Road Song” (sort of like Steppenwolf via Swervedriver, with Stephen Malkmus on vocals) is thus the thirteenth song, but the twelfth listed). John Rivers, who also worked with the excellent Close Lobsters (also from Scotland), was the engineer.

The Best Thing About This Album

“First Day On a Brand New Planet”

Release Date

May, 1996

The Cover Art

Is there anything more predictably indie than an album cover made up of a collection of Polaroids? No. For all their musical middle-finger raising, this is a very conventional cover. The image here is obviously the non-U.S. version. Within these shores, the Polaroids are the same but the “We are” text replaces the “urusei” in the third column, and the Japanese characters are only on the last Polaroid in the second row (and some of the characters are different).

Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 6)

Yo La Tengo can never be accused of not having a sense of humor. Whether the reprinted fan letter on Painful, the fake releases advertised on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, or the jokey song and album titles, Yo La Tengo never comes across like they are taking things too seriously. Here, the album title comes from a dispute between two New York Knicks, and the last song mocks the inability of people to get the band’s name correct.

What I Think of This Album

I tend to think of this as I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, Part Two. It’s another eclectic collection of songs, jumping from style to style (but somehow always sounding like Yo La Tengo; Roger Moutenot mans the boards once more), and while it would be easy to say that almost no album by anyone is as good as Heart, the truth is that this album suffers in the inevitable comparison. The band sounds more confident than on Heart, but that assuredness seems to have come at the cost of the sense of wonder and fun that permeated that landmark work. This is another Yo La Tengo album that works best for fans, though I could be convinced otherwise.

On the positive side of the ledger, there is the light and yearning piano-based ’60s pop of “Beanbag Chair” and surprising soul number “Mr. Touch, replete with horns and a shocking falsetto from Ira Kaplan (who, it has to be said, overall gives probably his best vocal performance throughout this album). Also noteworthy is a strings and euphonium pairing, augmented by a drum machine, that turns “Black Flowers” into the song latter-day Flaming Lips were always trying to write but couldn’t.

The band goes back to the sounds of Painful on the drones-and-bongos-and-Farfisa (seriously?) “The Room Got Heavy” and the “Eight Miles High”-isms of “The Race Is On Again.” Scottish pop á la Belle and Sebastian is the name of the game on the airy and pleasant “The Weakest Part.” 

Less successful are songs like the meandering “I Feel Like Going Home,” with a subdued vocal from drummer Georgia Hubley; the jazzy “Sometimes I Don’t Get You;” and lengthy instrumental “Daphnia,” which stops the album dead in its tracks. “I Should Have Known Better” is 85% of a good song, but the rest never arrives, and despite all its energy, “Watch Out for Me Ronnie” doesn’t even get that far.

Finally, the album is bookended by a pair of Kaplan guitar showcases, each over ten minutes long; the first is fairly mundane, but finale “The Story of Yo La Tango” (that is not a typo) is galactic.

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Story of Yo La Tango” is one of their best six-string jams.

Release Date

September, 2006

The Cover Art

Another miss. This is an abstract painting that does nothing for me. I do like the shadow effect on the band name.

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

It’s not always easy to hear the lyrics in Yo La Tengo songs, and you’re not often left feeling good when you discern them. On this album in particular, as well as on I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, the conclusion that there is much amiss in the marriage between Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley is easily, though perhaps inaccurately, drawn. These are just songs, of course. Who knows from whence they sprang or why. But still . . .

What I Think of This Album

Yo La Tengo gets ambient, bitches. For the most part, this is a subdued, gentle blanket of an album, including the 17 minute long treatise, “Night Falls on Hoboken.” But even within the hushed tones, there are plenty of surprises. Whether the arrangements were carefully planned or developed organically, they add color and texture to the songs courtesy of shifting drum patterns (some from a machine), other percussion, bass swells, strings, organ, shards of piano, and guitar.

Representing another evolution for the band, I am not sure I would call it essential for the casual listener, though it is a superb album, and any existing fan should definitely check it out; in fact, I am not confident a non-fan would really appreciate it, if this was their introduction to Yo La Tengo.

That said, the album is anything but boring. There is plenty to keep you engaged, whether it is the Georgia Hubley-sung “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” (referencing a Simpsons gag, and invoking a bizarre love triangle of Tony Orlando, Dawn, and Frankie Valli); the excellent feedback-laced, whammy bar workout “Cherry Chapstick,” which is inconsistent with the feel and mood of the rest of the album; the unusual samba cover of “You Can Have It All” (which has “A Fifth of Beethoven” type strings, I swear to God); and the disquieting, Whit Stillman influenced “The Last Days of Disco;” the lyric “And the song says ‘Don’t be lonely’ / It makes me lonely / I hear it and I’m lonely / More and more” is a gut punch every time. In addition, there is the spoken word majesty of the “The Crying of Lot G” (the Pynchon tribute being incomplete insofar as the song is accessible and enjoyable); Hubley’s vocals on the country ballad “Tears Are In Your Eyes;” and the soundscape of “Hoboken.”

The band thanks the Ladybug Transistor and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan in the liner notes. Roger Moutenot produced again.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Cherry Chapstick.” Reapply liberally. Though the “it makes me lonely” from “Disco” is a veeeeeeerrrrrrrrry close second.

Release Date

February, 2000

The Cover Art

Pretty good. This supernatural photograph is by Gregory Crewdson, a professor at Yale University School of Art, and nicely juxtaposes the mundane reality of suburban/small town living with the otherworldly. The formatting of the band name looks good, as well as the use of very small font for the album title.

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.

Yo La Tengo – Painful

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Weird that this band hits its stride on its sixth album, but this is one of the glories of independent music. Major labels exist to make money. Indie labels exist to make art. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it’s close enough for jazz. What would my collection look like but for artists who at least got their start on indies? Thank God bands like Yo La Tengo were permitted to make music early so that we could hear everything they would later make as well.

What I Think of This Album

The first essential Yo La Tengo album (their sixth overall, and their second with now-essentially-permanent bassist James McNew), Painful adopts a greatly expanded approach, as the band explores shoegaze atmospherics, drooooooooooones, and the joys of keyboards. I don’t know how much credit goes to producer Roger Moutenot (who shared the work with Fred Brockman), but the band was happy enough to keep on collaborating with him past this initial effort.

The sound of the future meets the practice of the past, as the album opens with the first version of “Big Day Coming,” a shockingly effective song that consists of just feedback, a very quiet bass, hushed vocals (including about covering the Stones), and a repetitive organ riff; it still feels too short at seven minutes. “From a Motel 6” may make a joke of the Dylan song, but the guitar is pure shoegaze, which gets its due again on the smeary “Double Dare.” Atmospheric instrumental “Superstar Watcher” somehow manages to leave an impression in under two minutes. That sound carries over into organ-heavy “Nowhere Near,” sounding a lot like early Spiritualized/late Spacemen 3, but actually written by drummer Georgia Hubley.

The band seemingly pays tribute to its newest favorite instrument on the droning “Sudden Organ,” which could just as easily have been titled “Surprising Drums.” Kaplan’s vocals are excellent on the entire album, perhaps nowhere better than on the sweet “A Worrying Thing.” The guitars get a bit heavier on “I Was the Fool Beside You for Too Long,” another piece that seems heavily indebted to J. Spaceman and Sonic Boom. The tender, skeletal, subdued version of the Only Ones’ “The Whole of the Law” is enough to bring a tear to your eye. The second version of “Big Day Coming” showcases markedly louder vocals and muscular drumming. The album ends with another epic track, the exploratory, tidal “I Heard You Were Looking,” where Kaplan finally breaks loose.

The liner notes contain a reprinted “fan” letter hilariously excoriating the band for a less-than-appreciated live performance (“nebulous, abstract, feedback fucking nonsense”), incorporating aspects of the evening the band could not be responsible for (e.g., the lack of satisfactory ventilation at the Knitting Factory), and closing with the unimpeachable “up yours, you no talent fucks!” The only not-funny part is the anti-semitic slur tossed in the middle of the diatribe.

The Best Thing About This Album

“I Heard You Were Looking” is amazing.

Release Date

October, 1993

The Cover Art

This is another great Yo La Tengo cover (traditionally by Hubley, but no credit given on this release). A dark (quite a bit darker than the image I’ve uploaded here), heavily manipulated shot of a car driving by a New Jersey refinery, with maybe some long-exposure head/taillights, it’s a masterpiece of color and abstraction, and pairs perfectly with the music on the album. I like the dual colored font for the band name. The back cover is the same shot with different coloring.

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.

Yo La Tengo – Ride the Tiger

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I got into Yo La Tengo very late – and only after an aborted attempt in 1994 on the heels of Electr-O-Pura – but fortunately, they were still an active band, recording and releasing quality music. I’ve seen them live twice:  once was excellent and the other time, not so much. They formed in New Jersey in 1984, and while members have come and gone, the core trio has been former music critic Ira Kaplan, spouse Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew.

What I Think of This Album

This is the first Yo La Tengo album, and while it’s not exactly an accurate template for what the band would go on to do for the next thirty years, you can hear some future Yo La Tengo in here. In the liner notes to the expanded reissue, Kaplan credits then-member Dave Schramm for the guitar sounds (in fact, the credits list Kaplan as “naive guitar” and Schramm as “informed guitar”), but Kaplan’s emerging songwriting is the reason to own this (that said, I don’t regard this as a necessary purchase for anyone other than a serious Yo La Tengo fan).

“The Cone of Silence” has an instantly agreeable jangle to it, and a solid solo at just about the two minute mark; Kaplan’s vocals are easy and laid-back, very much of the Lou Reed school (his voice reminds me a bit of the Feelies’ Glenn Mercer – it must be something in the New Jersey water). The noisy “The Evil That Men Do” is appropriately unsettling. The dark tone continues on the tom-centric “The Forest Green,” the first song of three on this album with Clint Conley of Mission of Burma on bass; he also produced the album. Yo La Tengo slows down on the spacious “The Pain of Pain” (what a fantastic title), which could easily be a track from one of their 2000’s albums; Georgia adds her vocals here to nice effect.

Schramm wrote the excellent, deadpan Byrds-by-way-of-the-Velvet-Underground “The Way Some People Die” as well as the slightly less strong “Five Years” (though both share a melody to a degree). Hubley gets to cut loose a bit on the drums on “The Empty Pool,” written by Feelies’ percussionist Dave Weckerman. “Alrock’s Bells” is another gentle, almost fragile, song that points to greater things – when Hubley joins in on harmony after over two minutes, it’s thrilling. “Screaming Dead Balloons” is a gangly, nervous song – all elbows and knees – on which Kaplan provides his most forceful vocal on the album. There is also a Kinks cover (“Big Sky”) that seems like a misstep. The reissue adds four songs:  both sides of a single, and a pair of live songs. The A side (“The River of Water”) is of a jangly piece with the rest of the album and the B side – a Love cover – is fine (I don’t like Love) with some nice drumming from Hubley and a rather pointless guitar solo. The first live song is the apparently menu-inspired “Crispy Duck,” with some cool guitar twangs and other noises, finally giving way to a fun solo; the other is an enthusiastic cover of Sammy Walker’s “Closing Time.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“It’s not the question / It’s who you ask.” I can’t deny that “The Way Some People Die” is the best song here, though it is not technically a Yo La Tengo tune. A close second is “Alrock’s Bells.”

Release Date

January, 1986

The Cover Art

I like this cover (designed by Hubley) a lot. The band’s name overlaid on top of the backwards band name is fantastic; the saber-tooth tiger skeleton is cool and I dig the large light blue field taking up the bottom 40% or so of the cover. I don’t love the font for the title (which is difficult to read), but everything else is so right, I can overlook that easily.

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