The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, April 15, 2003
OPEN LETTER ABOUT YO LA TENGO

Hey up, lass.

You've missed a lot of music, as well as everything else, or maybe in addition to everything else you and I have missed. That Lucky Pierre album came out last summer; you would have loved that. The Streets - you would immediately have seen the kinship with Arab Strap. We Love Life, of course. Still can't find "Night Owl" by Bobby Paris. It's on Cameo Parkway, which bloody Allen Klein owns, and he won't reissue or license anything, not even "96 Tears."

So much else. Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia have now had two albums out. And there was a Ballboy album. The new Arab Strap''s out next week. All this stuff I can't bring myself to listen to. Not by myself. Would we even have had time for music? Probably not, with everything else we had planned.

And now the new Yo La Tengo's out. Summer Sun. Oh God you would have liked this. Mellow but quietly playful and finally profound; an entirely logical follow-up to And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. "Night Falls On Hoboken" - that suspended, not quite quiet, landscape. And here, on the new one, we have an opening track called "Beach Party Tonight," but this is the same beach as Neil Young or Nevil Shute, or even Chris Rea. Indistinct, never quite graspable, but it's lovely. It's lovely in the way that the Manitoba album isn't. Who Manitoba? Oh you're missing nothing there - someone who uses all the same ingredients as Yo La Tengo, but doesn't, as yet, have anything to say with them. Jigsaw puzzle music, like a Mr Byrite reproduction of "Private Psychedelic Reel" with the obligatory dog barking noises and irritating squeaky gate sax. There are improv players present on Summer Sun but they merge into the needs of the music, rather than scream their lungs out over the top of the music. Roy Campbell Jr and Deniel Carter are there, but sometimes hardly there. William Parker's double bass blends very effectively with James McNew's electric bass to produce a duality somewhere between Astral Weeks and Laughing Stock. Not forgetting New Order.

"Little Eyes" gives us Stereolab stripped of all the tiresome Wire/Intoxica! kitsch - it sounds so effortless that it's not an effort to listen to it. "Nothing But You And Me" is an extraordinary torch ballad which gradually becomes more and more touched by what sounds like a grand piano falling down a lift shaft, and various other unspecifiable electronic noises (and through it all, Ira Kaplan's demonstrably undemonstrative voice singing "Wake up honey/Won't you come back to me" HOW DID HE KNOW?), before Kaplan's guitar takes flight at the fadeout, with great Terje Rypdal swoops and tonalities. "Season Of The Shark" is a poisonously bouncy indie song worthy of C86 as it should have been. "Today Is The Day" welds great gulfs of bass with faraway vocals and Frisell-esque guitars (Kaplan, in the past a noise guitarist worthy to dwell alongside Sonny Sharrock and Stefan Jaworzyn, now ssems to be conjuring up the spirit of mid-'70s - i.e. good - ECM). "Tiny Birds" just echoes forever, its pizzicato strings detonating throughout; worthy of Cat Power. "How To Make A Baby Elephant Float" is weirdly reminiscent of "Postcard" by Neil Innes (remember how well Innes fitted in with YLT at their RFH gig?). And how good YLT can be when they're playful - the innocent breakbeat fun of "Georgia Vs. Yo La Tengo" recalls early, i.e. interesting, Luscious Jackson. "Don't Have To Be So Sad" is an exercise in self-laceration ("If you're looking at me/I'll try to be what you want to see") but with its backward drum track and its slippery, ghostly mirage of horns well back in the mix, you feel as though you're being kissed. How long it is since I've felt that, as well you know.

Meanwhile, "Winter A-Go-Go" represents the best deployments of ska in non-reggae/hip hop/R&B/garage music since the bloody Specials, if I'm not over-exaggerating, and you know I regularly do. Terrific pop? Martha and the Muffins? Well well well...and how about "Moonrock Mambo"? More breakbeats, and an acute lyric which manages to namecheck the Mister Men, Don Cheadle and Steve Coogan - not to mention "like Jefferson Airplane, except on Grunt" - with the payoff "I want to be next to you" (a deracinated Rose Royce/Temptations?) and an immeasurably sad backing vocals/vibes descending lament of a motif crossing over the otherwise gleeful music. Why can't Mercury Rev do this sort of thing any more? They should stop trying so hard. Yes I know, so should I.

The 10-minute "Let's Be Still" is to my mind - and I'm sure it would have been to yours - a far truer development of what MBV set in motion than any number of black-jacketed, detuned droners have ever managed. An impeccable argument for reflection, for living,, with distant foghorn chorales set against the horn players, who really come into focus here with some very controlled free improvising, Campbell especially impressive in muted Milesian mood. It's as if the song is inseparable from the improvising - and when was the last time this fusion was performed so effortlessly? Laughing Stock, perhaps? Not forgetting Gillian Welch.

After that there's nothing left to say except goodbye, which Kaplan does in a brief reading of Alex Chilton's "Take Care" ("not to hurt yourself"), with the compassion which is only made possible by the foreknowledge of noise, hurt, pain and death. When you've come out the other end. I haven't quite done that yet. How am I doing, do you think? Badly? As well as expected? As well as you would have expected, I hope...because yours remains the only opinion I can really trust, even 20 months later.

I don't know. All I know is that you would have loved this record, and you're not here to hear it. All I know is that I have known new people, or other people differently, in these 20 months. Many are kind and good. But not even the best of them have come close to you. Not that that should be their ambition; far from it. But then again, where are you, if not within me? You only exist now because I exist. And so I continue to write, to put words in your mouth, to talk to you regardless. Because when the time comes when we both cease to exist, this writing will still stand as evidence that once we did exist, we loved and were loved. Why else does anyone write? The Brontes linking hands as they walked around the table at Haworth. Those imperishably moving inscriptions of their initials on that table. The table you and I looked at and walked around so many times. It kept them going. And this website keeps both you and I going.

Night night then, Lauralee.
LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE
MC xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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