With a title like I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (reportedly a paraphrase of something overheard from an NBA player during a game) you’re almost obligated to come up with a…well…kick-ass disc to justify the boast. Yo La Tengo (its name taken from an anecdotal incident during a baseball game) did just that by reaching into its bag of musical tricks and pulling out an eclectic , thoroughly engaging and entertaining, 15-track gem of a record.
This collection is bracketed with two long tracks (neither of which overstays its welcome): the opening “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind” (clocking in at nearly 11 minutes) is a glorious, churning, feedback-drenched, Psychedelic rocker that relentlessly draws the listener into the groove (the vocals are buried in the thick mix); and the closing “The Story of Yo La Tango” (coming in at just under 12 minutes), a slow-building tour de force that features layered guitars building to a majestic crescendo and brings the disc to a powerful conclusion.
In-between those two tracks, the band follows its collective muse wherever it takes them. From insanely catchy pop songs (the sprightly, witty “Beanbag Chair”, the gently propulsive “The Race is On Again”, with its sweet guitars supporting the lovely, intertwining male and female vocals, the punky “I Should Have Known Better”, the dreamy “The Weakest Part”) to reflective piano-accented ballads (the heartbreakingly poignant “I Feel Like Going Home”, the bittersweet “Sometimes I Don’t Get You”, and the wistful “Song for Mahila”) to horn-driven soul shuffles (the sparkling “Mr. Tough” which features cool falsetto vocals that wouldn’t be out of place on a Prince record.)
From multi-layered mini-epics (the stately “Black Flowers”, in which Kaplan’s plaintive vocals are cushioned by sweet harmonies, delicate horns, and soaring strings and the brooding yet delicate, nearly 9-minute instrumental “Daphnia”) to flat out rock and roll (the garage band stomp of “Watch Out for Me, Ronnie”, the sonic assault of “The Room Got Heavy”, which sounds to me like a wondrous mash-up of the Byrds and Santana with a healthy dose of Iron Butterfly thrown in for good measure, and the Beatle-esque shimmer of “Point and Shoot”.)
This is, quite simply, a wondrous pop record (one hour and seventeen minutes well spent indeed.)