I’ve long had some kind of deep resentment toward Yo La Tengo. I never quite knew what it was. Throughout the 90s I was right there with your Pavement, your Guided By Voices, your Jesus Lizard, your Palace Brothers, your Stereolab, but I never could sign on for YLT. It’s not like I ever spent much time listening to them, but whenever I heard them I always found it bloodless. Well, if the 21st century is about anything, it’s about expanding our sympathetic capacities. And I’ve found myself recently having to accept that YLT’s new record is brilliant. For one thing, there’s the title – I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. That’s something Gordon Lish would probably be proud of. And then there’s this track, "The Race is On Again," with its beautiful murky vocal counterpoint. It reminds me a little of Teenage Fanclub’s "I Know the World'll Be Ok." (Doubtful, depends on the meaning of the word "world.")
And speaking of expanding our sympathetic capacity, consider "New Potato Caboose" as an exercise. This is from Anthem of the Sun, the Dead's trippy second album. It's funny, Dead heads like to dismiss the Dead's studio albums, and I always thought Anthem of the Sun was an impenatrable wank, but I heard some of it the other night on the ride home from a Chinese restaurant. I've really grown to love the Dead's bogus Medieval stuff -- "St. Stephen," "Rosemary" and "Dark Star." This fits right in. Arthur Magazine ran a piece about which of the Dead's records were acceptable. It was an interesting discussion. I've come to dig bits and pieces of all the studio albums through Blues for Allah, and if I'm feeling expansive I might even speak out in defense of that gay stoner disco shit on Shakedown Street. Well, while we're at it, "Althea" off Go to Heaven is pretty unimpeachable. So, I'm ruined, basically.
Which leads us to ... Brewer and Shipley. I don't know what came over me the other day at the record store. I just felt it. These were the guys who brought us "One Toke Over the Line, Sweet Jesus," so consider it an act of mercy that it's this track under consideration today. Finding the beauty in B&S reminds me of that scene in The Life of Milarepa where the before taking in Milarepa, the young aspirant, the wise old master first makes the acolyte built a stone castle on a distant hilltop. Then, when the construction is complete, the master orders Milarepa to tear it down and return the stones to their original place. The master then tells Milarepa to rebuild elsewhere. It's an endurance test. It may be a worthless exercise, but we're stronger when it's through. Think of the insipid flute as a boulder on your shoulder.
(I still can't seem to upload pictures on Blogger, so you'll just have to imagine the great shot of Brewer and Shipley, with too-tight pants, hippie-swirl combovers, lavish mustaches and a white fedora.) [Editor: I've done what I can. Black cowboy hat will have to do.]
"The Race is on Again" - Yo La Tengo
"New Potato Caboose" - Grateful Dead
"Ruby on the Morning" - Brewer and Shipley