Anniversaries are funny things. They make people look back and reassess a whole range of things. How far they’ve come, how little things have changed, or in Yo La Tengo’s case, how well a concept was done the first time and why not do it again, with the same people, in the same studio and see what happens?
The anniversary in this case is for Yo La Tengo’s Fakebook, a fondly remembered mix of covers and originals that, at the time, showed a softer side to Yo La Tengo’s skewed guitar assaults.
20 years later and they’re back where they started, literally in the same studio with the same producer with a collection of tracks that prove Yo La Tengo are true connoisseurs of the song. Only they could take to The Cure’s “Friday In Love”, remove Robert Smith’s buoyant stamp and transform it into something soft and understated. Likewise in turning Hank William’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” into a surf-tinged country lament.
You’d have to be Yo La Tengo to know the original versions of some of these songs, but this is perhaps part of the attraction — you never know quite what to expect. As random and diverse the list of artists may be (or may not, we’re not talking Duran Duran’s Thank You here) there’s a familiar ebb and flow passing through each, of a band who intuitively know how to make someone else’s song their own.
Along with two new songs, “Rickety” and “Awhileaway”, the band dig their own back catalog, taking a handful of old tracks and giving them a gentle dressing down. The best served by this is “Deeper Into Movies” from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, stripping it of its original guitar fuzz obfuscations and buried vocals and putting Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s entwining voices front and centre. A true highlight.
After 30 years as a band making music, you know what you’re getting in a Yo La Tengo album and are thus rarely disappointed. In the case of Stuff Like That There, not disappointed at all. See you in another 20 years.