Yo La Tengo – I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

(Side Note: I’m well aware of my faults as a writer, my main fault being that I’m not one. Writers construct thoroughly planned, cleverly worded and structurally sound articles. I write biased, neurotically-charged posts made up on a whim and written hurriedly, with very little proof-reading. Acceptance of these facts is the first step on the path to redemption, and I plan on starting here, by doing what proper music writers could chuck out in their sleep, but something I avoid unreservedly, an actual album review. Not a summary, a short review or a track-by-track rating. An actual, full-length review. Well, an attempt at one anyway, if I fail, I’ll go back to random lists, vague discussions on wide-ranging subjects and occasional topical points.)

The first thing you notice about I Am Not Afraid Of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, if you are someone with the mentality to make snap judgements on albums, is the title. Rolling it around your mind, you may wonder to yourself, is this intended to be a light-hearted comedy title, or should the message be taken deadly seriously? Will Yo La Tengo, a band known for skipping nonchalantly between musical styles, actually beat you to the ground with their sounds?

If this 2006 release were the prize-fighter its title implied, it would not be a big-swinging one-hit KO kind of boxer, more the kind of long-lasting fighter that will wear you down with a number of swift blows. The individual tracks may not hit hard, but after the albums 77 minute running length is up it might feel that way.

Most accurately described as a conglomeration of the ideas Yo La Tengo have produced throughout their career, IANAOYAIWBYA (apologies for the acronym problem) acts as a neat summary of the bands’ previous work, offering fans of the back catalogue more of the same, whilst introducing newcomers to their varied style.

It is difficult to discuss this album without throwing the word “varied” in a few times. Opening with the epic sonic jam, “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”, in which a bass drone and a gorgeously carefree guitar swim around each other in a frenzy of noise, each member shows off a breath-taking level of skill. Ira Kaplan’s summery call to “slide, slide, slide down the waterslide” fits perfectly amongst the rubble of sound, immediately disproving any potential claims that this would be better suited as an instrumental. Along with the closing track, which copies this formula, the sounds seem to imitate pop whilst never quite achieving it. The existence of these two tracks, which together total 23 minutes, is quite unexpected considering the filling that comes between these two thick slices of musical bread.

The soothing soft-pop of “Mr Tough” and “Beanbag Chair” seem instantly recognisable, which would be a bad thing if the whole album were peppered with these kinds of derivative moments of recollection, but the variety of styles on display ensures that as a whole the album stays fresh throughout. The lapses into pop may detract those who wish for more complex fare, but there is a sense of fun that is infectious and spills over into the moodier tracks such as “I Feel Like Going Home” and “Black Flowers”.

A great strength of this album is that it engaged the listener in genres most indie bands dare not touch. The laid back jazz of “Sometimes I Don’t Get You” is a surprise but it is suited to the album, and forms a triptych of nods to the 60s alongside the Byrds-esque swooning of “The Race Is On Again” and the classic rock ‘n’ roll present on “Watch Out For Me Ronnie”. Yo La Tengo stand out from some of their counterparts not necessarily because they are more skilful at the straightforward indie guitar songs, but because they devote so much time to songs that stray from the expected style.

Unfortunately, the wealth of ideas does have its down-sides. The album is too long, and though you can certainly make a case for keeping every track on the album, that doesn’t mean they should be there. By the time the final track is reached, “The Story of Yo La Tengo” is reached, the listener has been pounded with enough body blows to have them waiting for the bell to sound, making its 12 minute length unwelcome. There is no doubt the track is a fine achievement on its own, but incorporating it at the end of an album that is already packed to bursting makes it difficult to sustain the attempted mood.

The melancholy instrumental “Daphnia”, which could be considered the middle track, also seems out of place. The structure of two vast jams, one at either end, with light pop tracks and a haze of varied genres in between, would work fine, so why feel the need for a sparse, tedious 9 minute groan of a track? It dislodges the fine atmosphere built up by the surrounding songs, and seems to lack any purpose or direction, either on its own or as part of the album.

Minor niggles aside, this is a very good album, which offers new listeners a reference point with which to look back over two decade of classic indie, yet seems to be the album that Yo La Tengo were slowly building towards all those years. This is a fine achievement, and definitely worth listening to, because even if you only find a few tracks that suit your tastes, you will find it difficult to get those tracks out of your head.


About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

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