It was 20 years ago today: Yo La Tengo

September 1, 2010

As noted yesterday, I'll be otherwise occupied for the next few days, but I thought it would be fun during the blogging downtime to take a look back at 1990 and some of my favorite releases from that year from the perspective of two decades on. Today: My original circa '90 fanzine review of a lovely acoustic detour by thefavorite sons (and daughter) of Hoboken, N.J.: Yo La Tengo.

 

Yo La Tengo, "Fakebook" (Bar None) Rating:4/4

Yo La Tengo is like the close friend you call when the black clouds are gathering. You need that familiar voice to tell you everything’s gonna be alright, though you know what’ll be said before you even dial the number. “Fakebook” is one of their best records because it’s the most effortless, the most conversational. Five originals and 11 tasteful covers tossed off during one long afternoon in the studio. No amps, no overdubs, no pretensions.

The tremendous, looping “Barnaby, Hardly Working” on last year’s “President Yo La Tengo” proved once and for all that Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley can write a song that’s not only as good as but actually overshadows the ones borrowed from their heroes. In Hobokenese, it proved they wuz a contendah, and it silenced the Village Voice-schooled critics who dismissed them as just more smart whiteboy college rock twaddle. “Barnaby” appears again here in a skeletal version that’s no less effective. “President” was the roar so powerful and relentless that you couldn’t help but take notice; “Fakebook” is the mysterious whisper, a lot quieter but no easier to ignore.

When Yo La Tengo started out, it took Kaplan three or four years just to sing into the mic. Now he’s standing on stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar, harmonizing (!) with Georgia on songs as beautiful and fragile as “Speeding Motorcycle” and “Andalucia.” I can’t say if “Fakebook” will stand up through time like the other quietly powerful records I’m tempted to compare it to—say, the third albums from the Velvet Underground and Big Star, or “Tonight’s the Night” by Neil Young. But I can say that right now, Yo La Tengo has made an album that makes me feel a little bit less alone whenever I hear it. And that’s a lot to say about any record.