Album Review: Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There

In the scheme of things, I have to be honest and say I’d prefer a new Yo La Tengo album filled with original songs. That’s just how I feel. Sorry Ira, James, and Georgia. I’d much rather hear newly-penned, original tunes coming out of the YLT camp any day of the week over covers. But hey, if there’s a band out there that can record a collection of mostly cover songs and put it out as a standalone LP and make it work? Yeah, that would most definitely be Yo La Tengo. Stuff Like That There would be such an album. It does contain reimaginings of three older YLT tunes(“All Your Secrets”, “Deeper Into Movies”, “The Ballad of Red Buckets”), as well as two new, unreleased tracks(“Awhileaway”, “Rickety”), but for the most part this album is a love letter to artists known and not as well known that have affected these three Hoboken, New Jersey natives in one way or another.

When listening to Stuff Like That There you really can’t tell a difference between the covers from the originals. YLT do covers as if they wrote them. There’s no attempt by Ira, James, and Georgia to somehow morph into the artists they are covering. They lovingly envelope songs like Hank Williams’ “I”m So Lonely I Could Cry”, The Cure’s “Friday I’m In Love”, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Butchie’s Tune” into their own acoustic-strummed and brushed snare world. This is a low key, quiet album. Something you could play late at night and not wake the kids up. Their great interpretation of Great Plains’ “Before We Stopped To Think” caresses and trickles from the speakers like some distant whisper. The Parliaments’ “I Can Feel The Ice Melting” is given a old time-y shuffle. Former YLT guitarist Dave Schramm adds some great jazz-inflected guitar throughout the album, but he especially shines on this great track. Yo La Tengo aren’t strangers to this sort of thing, having created indie rock masterpieces out of nuance, restraint, and melancholic moods on albums like And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, Painful, and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One(as well as doing the covers thing once before on 1990s Fakebook.)

At their best, YLT write and record songs that are the equivalent of a quietly longing sigh. They evoke nostalgia for another time, both for times we’ve lived in and times we haven’t. With Stuff Like That There, it feels not like some sort of step forward or leap into new territory. But what it does feel like is a breather. A breezy moment of reflection that we as long time fans and listeners are invited to participate in. Sometimes in life you’ve gotta stop and take stock. When you’re in constant forward motion you tend to lose track of the good stuff that’s all around you. Stuff Like That There is the moment you stop and smell those familiar roses.

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