Yo La Tengo: Summer Sun (Matador)

This album has a hell of a lot going for it.

It’s fit that Summer Sun starts out with a drone. But the sound that has defined a past five amazing efforts, the inimitable murmur of Yo La Tengo, is beginning to sound slightly different to me. Could it be there’s something predictable? No. No way, I tell myself. Since the release of Painful, back in 1994, the Hoboken threesome has made, at worst, one imperfect album. So what do I make of Summer Sun, a very pleasing 13 tracks that let me ease on down the smooth, paved road toward the horizon? Do I just up and ask for a little difficulty? Well, maybe. Much like their last widely available LP, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, Summer Sun is an album for the evening, one that plays with quietude, that speaks volumes while saying little, like soundtracks to Raymond Carver stories. But there’s always a jolt in there somewhere, something to make me rethink the album entirely.

Since Nothing Turns, the Yo La family has widened, with guest musicians regularly adding their expertise this time around, including jazz heavyweights Roy Campbell Jr. and William Parker. The result is a fuller, almost orchestral feel to the songs. “Nothing But You and Me” and “Tiny Birds” are a testament to this rounder sound, but instead of toying with different textures, the band seems content to keep rhythms and tempos fairly uniform throughout. So I ask myself: “Cherry Chapstick” and “Sugarcube” can’t be on every record to spike the silence, right? But that’s exactly what Summer Sun needs: a slap of brusque steely guitar, the grind of unforgiving feedback. Something that stands apart, if for no other reason than to stand apart. The aforementioned “Nothing But You and Me” does a satisfactory job, and it’s a great song nonetheless. It just doesn’t hit that decibel level so important in creating a perfect Yo La Tengo album (or so the formula has gone in the past).

This album has a hell of a lot going for it, too. More than most albums this year, in fact. Ira, James, and Georgia’s ability to get damn funky while simultaneously staying nerdy and unassuming is unparalleled in the world of rock; no exception on Summer Sun. Tracks like “Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo” and “Moonrock Mambo” are some of their most playful since coming to Matador. This album is good, very good by most bands’ standards. But Yo La Tengo has upped the ante with each successive effort, so that finally they pay for their own greatness by having to deal with only a very good album. May most bands have half as much luck.

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