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Album Review
Popular Songs

Popular Songs
by Yo La Tengo


Review Date
7th December 2009
Reviewed by
Lukas Clark-Memler

There is something to be said for a band that has been around for a quarter of a century, and still has the spark to create great music. Yo La Tengo has not only survived this long, but has released a slew of critically acclaimed albums that have all satisfied the band’s cult following. Longevity and consistency have never been an issue for Yo La Tengo, and with Popular Songs, the band simply confirms that they are still a relevant entity, and have a lot of life left in ‘em.

As far as album titles go, Popular Songs sounds like a ‘best of’ compilation, or greatest hits record for some ‘80s new wave band suffering at the hands of our global recession. And in a way Yo La Tengo’s twelfth studio recording possesses a compilation-like feel - a collection of singles per se, with no overall fluidity or togetherness. The listener is confronted with an eclectic selection of songs that jump from genre to genre faster than an iPod on shuffle.

With this being said, the members of Yo La Tengo seem to delight in rendering their listeners into various states of confusion and alarm, and care little about public approval. Though with Popular Songs, the band seem to be making a step toward the more listenable, and a step away from their unique if not risky sound, that seemed to appeal to a niche audience only. However, with the last three tracks making up over half the length of the record (9, 11 and 15 minutes), Popular Songs is hardly your run-of-the-mill, mainstream indie album.

It has been about three years since Yo La Tengo proudly declared I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass; and earlier this year, under the pseudonym Condo Fucks, the band released an obscene albeit raucous selection of garage rock and lo-fi covers. So it really makes sense that most of Popular Songs is mellow and soft. From the Motown-esque “Is This It,” to the dream-pop somnambulism of “Avalon or Someone Very Similar,” Popular Songs showcases Yo La Tengo in a place of relaxation and leisure, and this exact tranquil feeling is transcended to the listener.

Popular Songs easily succeeds as Yo La Tengo’s most coherent and listenable release to date. Every track here shares a sense of poignancy and nostalgia – something that comes from a band looking back on a quarter of a century’s career.

Will this record appeal to a wider fan base of Yo La Tengo virgins? It’s possible. Will this album completely satisfy Yo La Tengo veterans who have been here since 86’s Ride The Tiger? Most definitely.

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