There’s a riot going on. You don’t need me, or Yo La Tengo, to tell you that. These are dark times, in our heads as much as in the streets. It’s easy to lose contact with the ground. Confusion and anxiety intrude into daily life and cause you to lose your compass. There are times that call for anthems, something to lift you out of your slump and put fire in your feet. And sometimes what is needed is a balm, a sound that will wrap around you and work out the knots in your neck.
For Yo La Tengo, this is a slow-motion action painting. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew did it all themselves, in their rehearsal studio, with no engineer and no complicated equipment (John McEntire later assisted in mixing). They did not rehearse together beforehand; they turned on the recorder and let things coalesce. Songs came together over long stretches, sometimes as much as a year going by between parts. You’d never guess this, since the layers are joined with such a liquid brush.
You’d imagine most of the songs had sprung forth whole, since they will enter your head that way. Within two listens you will be powerless to resist the magnetic draw of “Shades of Blue,” will involuntarily hear “She May, She Might” on your internal jukebox first thing in the morning and “Let’s Do It Wrong” late at night. While there’s a riot going on, Yo La Tengo will remind you what it’s like to dream. The sound burbles and washes and flows and billows. If records were dedicated to the cardinal elements, this one would be water.
There are shimmery hazes, spectral rumbles, a flash of backward masking. You are there. And even if your mind is not unclouded--shaken, misdirected, out of words and out of time--you can still float, ride the waves of an ocean deeper than your worries, above the sound and above the Sound.