To call an album 'Popular Songs' infers a level of presumption but for Yo La Tengo, the title seems apt. This being their twelve album, proves not only their longevity but their superb diversity. Yet despite their sizeable output, Yo La Tengo seem auspiciously unfamiliar with a distinct lack of notable singles or having sold their credibility for an advert. The problem could lie with their lack of a niche or perhaps more tellingly, their rampant versatility. Take opener ’Here To Fall’, with its desolate electro waves developing into a glorious strings and drums refrain complimented by Ira Kaplan’s quivering vocals. The track could easily provide backing to the end credits of Super Sunday football but thankfully retains all its credibility here. From glory to lazy as ’Avalon or Someone Very Similar’ reminisces of George Harrison and idle afternoon pop with its gentle, sweeping rhythms and Georgia Hubley’s backing vocals providing an angelic touch.
Within the first three tracks, Yo La Tengo prove their eminent variety with ’By Two’ showcasing a spellbinding eloquence utilising minimalism of both effort and bombast. Bass throbs menacingly in the background whilst synths bring an incessant hubbub leaving only Hubley’s articulate drone to offer any sense of meaning; to disarming effect. After slowly lulling the listener in with intelligence and a discrete thoughtfulness, the outfit drop all pretension, and perhaps inhibition. Like being startled out of a daydream, ’Nothing To Hide’ impresses with its almost childish nous of punk rock acting as surprise. So it should come as no shock at all for playful funk to follow in ’Periodically Double or Triple’. Hell, by now you should begin ticking off what genres remain to be covered, or indeed decades as the duet of Hubley and Kaplan during ‘If It’s True’ evokes The Carpenters and would sound suitably at home in the swinging 60s. Their charm continues with the delightful ‘I’m On My Way’, which would soundtrack prom dances if it relented from bordering on sleazy. Hubley then becomes the saving grace, providing delicious vocals for the acoustic ‘When It’s Dark’ with Kaplan’s turn in the intrepid, innocent ‘All Your Secrets’.
Even length provides another element of variety as the stiflingly wearying guitar strums of ‘More Stars Than There Are In Heaven’ stretch out for an impressive nine minutes, without anything remarkable in either chord change or lyric. ‘The Fireside’ displays a similar abstention yet displays a subtle generosity for gentle acoustic strumming, meandering basslines and Kaplan’s soothing vocals. As if attempting to fill their quota, closer ‘And The Glitter Is Gone’ again doesn’t quite know when to cease but at least brings an intriguing concoction of reverb laden rhythms and screeching guitar.
Whether displaying an unbridled joy for diversity, or simply an unparalleled level of expertise in all things pop; few outfits can provide an album so brilliantly unique.