Review Summary: YLT brush up on their ability to make dreamy pop music, also loads up on instruments.
Crowded around the expectations for this bands new release were several possible outcomes and emotions. Could this album be a flop? Continuing in the trend of Summer Sun for certain critics who feel YLT are losing it and are unable to keep putting out consistently sweet albums. Perhaps it will be a step back into form, a long album with long songs that entertain the listener and maybe it would be a highlight of 2006. Whatever approach Ira Kaplan and the rest of the band took in making this album, it worked out in making this 77 1/2 minute enjoyable, listen able, and a step up from Summer Sun.
Even before the first second of the actual music is played, attention is being paid to the title of the album. Being excessively long and also being about ass-beatings makes a statement, this paired with the sweet artwork (Little Pink Lady
by Gary Panter) also gives it the ability to standout among other albums in the new release section, as well as the Yo La Tengo collection. When I first picked up this album, the clerk at Wherehouse gave me a look, repeated the title, and asked me what they sounded like. I stated they sound like a space/dream pop band that is good for sitting around and listening to all the way through, but that I didn't know what this
album sounded like. At this point neither do you, unless you've already heard it. Lets change that.
The first and last tracks of this piece work as bookends, not only as they kick off the album and finish it with 10+ minute songs, but they also work as portals. "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" represents what the band took from creating Summer Sun, and what they picked up before recording this album. The tail end of the album, "The Story of Yo La Tengo" sort of is an inverted mirror of the first song. It has the experience of recording the rest of the album to fall back on, and while basing its sound more in vocals and guitar than bass, just showcases YLT's ability to do more than one thing, how it can sound like one thing in one song, than completely switch it around for the next, giving I Am Not Afraid...
replay value and variety.
The bridge and the variety in the Yo La Tengo sound as previously mentioned is displayed perfectly in the first two tracks. Pass the Hatchet is a long heavy track which perfectly opens the album up, but then the flow suddenly shifts. While keeping intact and alive, "Beanbag Chair" brings in more of the superfluous instruments into the mix. The buzzing of the bass and the presence of the trombone thrown in with persistent piano make this a much softer track. Vocals presented as melodically as Ira's sounds kinda like if the guy from They Might Be Giants was less nerdy, and bad.
All ripping on TMBG aside, another highlight from this record is the sequence of the tracks, "Mr. Tough" and "Black Flowers". Mr Tough sounds in the beginning like it could be in the trailer of an indie film (and probably is), coming in with cowbell and piano gives the vibe of a dance song. The number is accompanied by trumpet and saxophone, which take a backseat until the second verse when it changes not in tempo, but overall feel. Saxophone does a good job of coloring the music as it bridges to a piano-lead solo. The chorus line ("Pretend everything could be alright") is repeated until the end; at the end the jump to "Black Flowers" is made. This is a much slower piece, played mainly on piano and bridged with trombone. The mood of this song is much more melancholy than the previous work, however the transition is smooth as silk, and just as enjoyable. The joint feelings these songs make just goes to show the variety of emotions YLT express in their music, as well as their ability to do both so well.
This album is just the latest bit of a great year for Matador records (having previously released Mission of Burma's Obliterati
and Belle and Sebastian's The Life Putsuit
) and is the uplift the band had been looking for. I Am Not Afraid...
is an acclaimed album, and the emotions, transitions, and sound it makes justifies these feelings. They've been in the game for 20 years and this record shows no gray hair.
4.3/5 (rounded to 4.5)
The Room got Heavy