Yo La Tengo
Sleepless Night [EP]
This new EP by Yo La Tengo features covers that stretch back over the last decade or so. As always with this band there’s equal awe for the versions they offer and the mere song-selection. It’s cool, or reassuring, or reassuringly cool to know that that band you’ve dug for so long also digs the songs you like. Songs that might seem like rather random, obscure cover-choices (Smile A Little Smile For Me by the Flying Machine from 1969) and songs by heroes (Bob Dylan) that get a whole new reinvention (It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry).
In the Yo La Tengo catalogue, this 6-track EP sits alongside 2015’s Stuff Like That There covers album, and the early Fakebook (1990). But anyone that’s seen the band live, and/or collected the offcuts and singles and EPs knows this group’s penchant for fine-wine cover versions. The ultimate in Record Collection Pop Music.
Sleepless Night opens with Blues Stay Away From Me, a showcase for the campfire three-way harmonies of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew. If you don’t know the 1949 version by the Delmore Brothers there’s every chance you know the 1972 rendition by NBRQ or the early 1990s version by Mark Knopfler and The Notting Hillbillies. There’s no barrier of entry to a song like this though, and particularly not with a version like this – soft, warm, inviting.
In fact that’s largely the tone here. Hushed. Reverent. But never precious. Songs for the joy of great songs. Performances that are faithful and joyous but still give a new bend to the page, leaving the indelible Yo La Tengo crease.
The Dylan cover feels like Nico’s version of I’ll Keep It With Mine has been layered with various other early VU drone works. So good.
The material gathered here, which stretches back to various B-sides and past-projects, was initially assembled for an art-exhibition collaboration with Japanese visual artist Yoshitomo Nara (LA County Museum of Art). But here, for all of us to hear, it feels simply like a new Yo La Tengo project, another fine batch of songs given their dream-pop aesthetic. Water-coloured with the warmth gathered from being left to dry in the lockdown sun.
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