Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs is almost completely awesome. Almost.

yo la tengo popular songs

Yo La Tengo has built a reputation. The veteran band from Hoboken, New Jersey is well known for experimentation and always being cradled by critics. Each album is a journey into another world and different genre. Another day, another dollar and so it is that the band gives us something new for 2009. Of course, as if it’s not enough to vary sound by albums, Yo La Tengo gives us such a variety within Popular Songs. All wrapped under the umbrella of “indie music,” the album features several, often more subtle variances that makes it an interesting and fresh listen.

While a lot of bands like starting records light and slowly digging into the rest of the music, YLT decided to begin heavy and work their way up. The lazy psych track, “Here To Fall” is almost syrupy, with orchestral strings constantly trying in vain to cut through the haze. It’s a bold choice for the number one spot. The next few tracks play with tempo, but generally keep things on the mellower side of the spectrum. The first wave of Popular Songs is nice, and if it was continued on the same track to the end it would be a fine album. No complaints. But when the band gets to “Periodically Double Or Triple,” things take a turn for the best.

The song is not an epic, sweeping piece of artistic expression with beautiful heart-breaking lyrics and mind-blowing musical experimentation. And that’s what’s so great about it! The jumping, squealing organ brings us back to 1963 and the innocent days of “Sugar Shack.” It’s songs like this that reveals the playful nature of Yo La Tengo. It’s a nature that has warmed the hearts of those who welcome musical experimentation, but keeps the band away from a mainstream that enjoys consistency and familiarity. It also shows the talent of the group to write such a variety of songs, all done incredibly well.

But as Popular Songs continues, the tracks get longer and begin the fuse together. The last three songs take up a full 37 minutes of the album and are more difficult to listen to. I guess they’re the bands “epics” that they feel are necessary, but the songs seem out of place and their arrival is a bit jarring. On a record full of slower 9-minute pieces, it’s expected, but side-by-side with more typical pop songs they come off as pretentious. But after 15 years and 11 albums, Yo La Tengo is entitled to do whatever Yo La Tengo wants, and if that’s to tack these songs at the end of an otherwise wonderful record, who am I to say no?

Yo La Tengo – “Here To Fall” [MP3]

Yo La Tengo – “Periodically Double or Triple” [MP3]

Yo La Tengo – “Nothing To Hide” [MP3]

Buy Popular Songs on iTunes

1 comment to Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs is almost completely awesome. Almost.

  • hi there :)

    i really like your review about the album. for me it’s the album of the year and i love every second of it.

    i just want to write a few words about the last three tracks. i think they fit very well at their position and one knows about yo la tengos passion for long sessions on their records. [i]Spec Bebop[/i] on ICFTHBAS was very epic and so were [i]Everyday[/i] and [i]Night Falls on Hoboken[/i] on ATNTII or the absolutely incredible [i]The Story of Yo La Tengo[/i] (besides [i]Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind[/i] as an opener^^) on INAOYAIWBYA.

    I would have been very disappointed if YLT would not have included the last three tracks on Popular Songs.

    As I first listened to the new album i sat down with a smile on my face from the moment on i read on the back of the cd, that there were three epics on it. three years i waited for the new album an then…they made it, they made it even more epic!. i was happy and as i had heared the three tracks i was even more happy and wasn’t able to get the smile off my face. :)

    i would love to see YLT make a collection of sessions on a seperate release (but not in the way they made it on TSOTSOS)…but as long as they don’t do this, i’m more as happy that they include such masterpieces on their albums.

    that’s my point of view :)

    greetings from germany and many thx for the very nice review!