YO LA TENGO – I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (Matador)
I would have bought this album just for the title, even had I not already been a huge fan of the band, and even if it had had a boring title then opening track ‘Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’ would have swayed me straight away, being a sprawling ten-minute guitar epic with minimal vocals and an underlying riff that I could listen to for hours. After a start like that it would be too much to hope that the band could continue it for the duration of the album, and it turns out to be just so, with ‘Beanbag Chair’ and ‘I Feel Like I’m Going Home’ slowing down the pace with a couple of their off-beat love songs. ‘Mr. Tough’ is something of an anomaly, in that it is a ‘pop’ song by a band who are as anti-pop as any that I know. Nevertheless, with its pseudo-soul leanings, falsetto vocals and horn-led choruses it really could get the band in the charts. ‘Black Flowers’ keeps the idea of a horn section, but this time utilises a euphonium to provide the bass parts, and it works wonderfully well. ‘The Race Is On Again’ has a Byrdsian feel to the guitar-work, while the rhythmic bongos of ‘The Room Got Heavy’ give it a something of a Madchester vibe, and the farfisa organ stabs add a touch of 60’s garage band attitude. ‘Daphnia’ is another lengthy piece, but this time comprising just piano and guitar, and with a much more atmospheric feel a la Godspeed You Black Emperor! or The Silver Mount Zion. ‘I Should Have Known Better’ is an out and out rock song, while ‘Watch Out For Me Ronnie’ is taken at breakneck speed, and is the nearest the band have ever come to punk rock. The album closes with another lengthy guitar-led work-out, and while ‘The Story Of Yo La Tango’ might not quite match ‘Pass The Hatchet…’ for sheer in your face brutality it is still a great way to end the album. This is not an easy record to get into, and it will take quite a few listens to fully appreciate it – the main reason for that being the sheer diversity of music which is on here. They can go from Neil Young-style guitar epics to pop songs, from rock to soul, and from punk to post-rock – you just never know what is going to come next. Once you have got over the shock of that, however, you will find an album that will reward repeated plays without ever becoming boring, and that is undoubtedly the sign of a great record.