Yo La Tengo, the New Jersey Indie rock band, have been going since 1992 and have crossed paths with multiple genres over their career, from shoe gaze and dream pop to noise and experimental rock. For years YLT have had massive amounts of critical success with albums like 1990’s Fakebook and 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, while also steadily releasing new material. This new record, Stuff Like That There is a follow-up to 2013’s full length Fade.
Now, Technically, Stuff Like That There is not a full-length record from the band. It’s more of a compilation release because it contains only two new original songs, along with three re-workings of previously released YLT songs and then a large group of nine covers. But listening to this album it most definitely feels like a full-length release, with each track falling into a very similar musical theme and style to make it feel like a coherent full length album.
The album opens up with a cover of Darlene McCrea’s 1964 single My Heart’s Not In It. And by listening to this song you basically should know that the whole album is almost identical in style. The acoustic covers with delicate electric guitar lines on the top and a small drum set played with brushes. The opening track rips apart the original, which is a full 60’s soul track, and crushes it into this cutesy, sickly sweet, twee infused pop song which just comes across as feeling tacky.
I run into this same problem the whole way through this project. YLT have taken songs from many different eras and squished into this same style, even when it just simply doesn’t work. Take the cover of Friday, I’m In Love by The Cure. The original version of this song, I am not a massive fan of either, but the YLT cover is something else. Where the awful lyrics of the song can be somewhat excused in the case of The Cure, because at least they had a full electrified band and that pop appeal to pull it off, but YLT have stripped all that away and left me to hear how absolutely grim the lyrics really are, as well as fusing it with a once again terrible attempt at sounding cutesy. Where The Cure made a fun sing along , YLT made a song that made me cringe.
The only cover that I can give credit to YLT on this album for actually improving is their cover of Before We Stopped To Think originally by The Great Plains. I had never heard of the song and when listening to the YLT version I was struck at how good lyrics were, they were absolutely fantastic. While the original of this song was quite rocky, when comparing the two I think that YLT took the style they employed on this album and really made it work for this song.
YLT contributed two new originals to this album Rickety and Awhileaway, which in the context of this album were completely lost to me because the style of these songs did not differ at all from the songs before it. As for the re-workings of previously released songs, I would not say they are re-workings as much as just acoustic versions. The only major difference in this albums version of All Your Secrets originally from 2009’s Popular Songs is that the track no longer has the synth foundation as the original, or the backing vocals that were present. Same can be said for the re-working of The Ballad Of Red Buckets from 1995’s Electr-O-Pura, the song may sound totally different without the wailing feedback guitars of the original, but when compared what is being played hasn’t really been “re-worked”.
Overall, I was extremely disappointed with this Yo La Tengo release. My only previous proper experience with a YLT full-length was I Can Feel The Heart Beating As One. Realising the problems with comparing a new album to an almost 20 year old album from the same, I tried to remove my bias and see this as a single project, as well as listening to the original versions of the re-works and the covers. And what I thought at the end of listening was that I couldn’t help feeling that this album just felt so forced, the cutesy, twee pop elements of this album made to sound delicate and fragile ended up sound weak and cheesy.