Review Summary: Yo La Tengo made a good album in 1989 and called it President Yo La Tengo
Due to my almost unparalleled ignorance of foreign languages, I have often found myself idly pondering the true meaning of Yo La Tengo. It is a phrase which doesn’t only sound cool, it seems to offer a wealth of comic possibility in translation that no other band name can. During my quest for truth, I stumbled upon a fascinating amount of “rough”, yet correct translations of the phrase, such as “Pull Your Socks Up, It’s Christmas Time”, “I’ll Rape You Tonight” and “We Love Fish.” Oh ha ha, very well done sirs! As you may imagine, it was rather a shock to me when I discovered it meant “I’ve got it.” Not shocking because “I’ve Got It” is outrageous or offensive in any way; instead, because of it seemed so unimaginative.
, the previous paragraph was almost entirely irrelevant and Yo La Tengo formed around 1984, by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley and blah blah blah. President Yo La Tengo
was the band’s third album, following their second album (isn’t that a surprise), New Wave Hot Dogs
. And in many ways, it feels precisely like a follow up album, continuing the ideas, which mainly consisted of alternately exploring folk rock/pop and brief noise works. President Yo La Tengo
expands these ideas, fully realises them, shows Yo La Tengo experimenting with alternate song structures and generally being cool.
This is almost epitomized in the opening song, “Banarby, Hardly Working,” Beginning with a loop of hypnotic feedback that pulses and hums and buzzes and moves from speaker to speaker. Underneath, a folky acoustic guitar riff, a fairly simplistic drum beat and a two note droning organ melody appear and are repeated over and over again in a mesmerizing manner. Ira Kaplan’s quiet murmuring helps to give the song its almost dream-like and illusory quality. And I’m pretty sure it’s the first example of Kaplan singing in this style. “Drug Test” follows, and while it doesn’t really stray from the traditional folk-rock paradigm, it explores the sonic possibilities of this genre, combining fuzz and gentle feedback to create, uh, a nice song, I guess. And it is nice, real nice. The spastic guitar thrash of “Orange Song” finds Yo La Tengo stepping out of their traditional “safe zone”, so to speak. And Kaplan yelling about thinking about oranges in his sleep is basically awesome.
Unfortunately, there are a few mildly tedious, uninteresting tracks. I.e., “Alyda”, an oddly polished folk pop song that’s only real shining light comes in the form of Georgia Hubley’s backing vocals (oohs and aahs), and “I Threw It All Away” an unnecessary Bob Dylan cover, complete with an irritating accordion and Kaplan whining about how love is all there is and throwing it all away. These songs are by no means bad
, they’re just not terribly interesting.
The songs on President Yo La Tengo
that deserve most attention (and get it) are the two different versions of “The Evil That Men Do”. Truly exemplifying their ability to hop between genres and juxtapose two entirely different ideas, they are essentially two completely different songs. Still, they show Yo La Tengo’s schizophrenic nature perfectly. The first version, (entitled “Craig’s Version” whoever he may be) is a 2 minute melodic instrumental that is at the same time vaguely folky and vaguely surf rock. I’m not sure why, but it seems to me to be the kind of tune that would be played in a lengthy motorbike-riding scene around a tropical paradise in a terrible black and white 1950s horror movie. The second version is almost as far away from the first as it could possibly be. It begins with a frantic, yet repetitive and hypnotic drum beat, and after about 10 seconds in, noise erupts from the speakers as Ira Kaplan pounds the strings and creates waves of feedback. He erratically assaults his guitar, plays bursts of random notes and produces a wonderfully atonal chaos. A melody briefly emerges, but soon it returns to the barrage of noise. It is certainly a significant song in their career, as the first 10+ minute noise jam they recorded. It’s also pretty much my favourite damn Yo La Tengo song.
[i]President Yo La Tengo[/] is probably the most interesting and best album of Yo La Tengo’s early career. It “gets to the heart of what makes them tick” as all music guide put it, effortlessly combining noise and folk with a hint of pop. I’m not quite sure how I’ve Got It can be president, because it’s utterly nonsensical. Yet President Yo La Tengo
deserves this title as much as any album in their career.