I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Yo La Tengo

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I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass Review

by Mark Deming

After the elegant, introspective romantic narratives of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and the beautifully crafted but restrained pop textures of Summer Sun, it was hard not to wonder if Yo La Tengo was ever going to turn up the amps and let Ira Kaplan go nuts on guitar again. For more than a few fans "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," the opening cut from YLT's 2006 album I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, will feel like the reassuring sound of a homecoming -- ten minutes of noisy six-string freak-out, with James McNew's thick, malleable basslines and Georgia Hubley's simple but subtly funky drumming providing a rock-solid framework for Kaplan's enthusiastic fret abuse. After the thematic and sonic consistency of their previous two major albums, I Am Not Afraid marks a return to the joyous eclecticism of 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, though nearly ten years down the road Yo La Tengo sounds noticeably more confident in their embrace of different styles and less hesitant in their technique on this album -- even Kaplan's gloriously unkempt guitar solos start to suggest a certain degree of well-earned professionalism. The songs also sound a shade less playful and more disciplined, though the group's ability to bring their distinct personality to so many different styles attests to their continuing love of this music and the quiet strength of their vision -- the neo-Byrds-ian psychedelia of "The Race Is on Again," the homey horn-punctuated pop of "Beanbag Chair," the plaintive folk-rock on "Black Flowers," the aggressive Farfisa-fueled minimalisms of "The Room Got Heavy," and "Daphina," which suggests a John Fahey track transcribed to piano and then used as the root for a eight-minute exercise in low-key atmospherics, all function on a different level and each one satisfies. What's both engaging and impressive about I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is that, as usual, these 15 songs always end up sounding like Yo La Tengo, whether they're upbeat guitar pop or dense loop-based drones, and if there's a bit less childlike élan here than in the past, there's also an intelligence and joy that confirms Yo La Tengo is still one of the great treasures of American indie rock, and they haven't run out of ideas or the desire to make them flesh in the studio just yet.

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