Yo La Tengo's 12th album runs 72:49. The closing tracks ratchet up from 9:37 to 11:22 to 15:51, making up over half the record's run time. But Popular Songs isn't "Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun," this is set the controls for the next star over. Alpha Centauri lies 4.37 light years away. You should arrive as those squirkling noises fade out at the end of "And the Glitter Is Gone."
So we have an album-as-conceptual-mix-tape (check the cover) made for one very long trip, during which rolling down windows would be inadvisable and any neighboring vehicles couldn't make out their impeccable musical taste anyway. Tengo's previous recording project, Fuckbook as the Condo Fucks, was all revved-up covers of Nuggets-era garagery. Popular Songs, though all originals, sound like other people's songs. "Taxman" with a hint of Wilson Pickett? "Periodically Double or Triple" and "If It's True" - Motown bass and strings? Only the trio's singing, warm but thin, pricks the illusion.
And the trippy stuff brings back Neil Young and Crazy Horse's slow-burn jams; Velvet Underground's live "What Goes On"; and "We Will Fall," that Stooges tune with an absent backbeat, pseudo-Egyptian invocations, and the ambiance of spending Saturday night trapped inside a giant bong. I do not own a giant bong, I have no spaceship, and I'm not sure yet whether such arrayed influences/tributes shall accrete to transmit an altogether new signal. In the meantime, I sign off on this one as an amazing soundtrack to watching a tree in its prime of life, with its awesome indifference to spaceship-builders, under a gray sky deciding whether to rain.
Album title: Popular Songs (2009)
Artist: Yo La Tengo
Songs: (1) Here To Fall (2) Avalon Or Someone Very Similar (3) By Twos (4) Nothing To Hide (5) Periodically Double or Triple (6) If It’s True (7) I’m on My Way (8) When It’s Dark (9) All Your Secrets (10) More Stars Than There Are in Heaven (11) The Fireside (12) And the Glitter Is Gone