Yo La Tengo, Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh

In the two decades since they started recording, Yo La Tengo have hardly changed - except to get better. The band most strongly associated with New Jersey's rock'n'roll nexus - a tiny venue called Maxwell's in Hoboken, a small but crucial distance outside Manhattan - began with the personal and artistic partnership of drummer Georgia Hubley and guitarist Ira Kaplan, solidifying with the addition of bassist James McNew. Those roles are fluid, though: all three play other instruments and sing, and it's this flexibility that allows them to repeatedly wring surprises from such a simple format. In the Liquid Rooms, McNew, moving centre-stage, reveals a purer, more plaintive and affecting vocal on Stockholm Syndrome than has ever been heard on record.

They have never lost the good, old-fashioned ability to rock that sometimes makes them seem a more homely version of Sonic Youth. Increasingly, though, their raucous side seems to function as a frame for the quieter, more casually intense songs. Caught between nostalgia and anticipation, Our Way to Fall is a microcosm of what makes them special. Everything is understatement: the song's limpid shuffle; the subtle dislocations of sense and time in the lyric ("I remember the way you look tonight"); the way everything seems held back in a kind of languid tension. On one hand, what Yo La Tengo do couldn't be simpler or more familiar - their affinities for the Velvet Underground are so strong that they once played them in a film. On the other, they achieve what few bands can: to be more than the sum of their parts, yet for each of those parts to be utterly indispensable. Barnaby, Hardly Working, a song from 1989, is strung out into an exquisitely lithe groove, Hubley's drumming a gentle powerhouse, constant as a heartbeat, corralling lovely oscillations of feedback. Always hypnotic, it is never indulgent. Clearly there is some rare magic in Yo La Tengo's democracy.

Contributor

David Peschek

The GuardianTramp

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