Yo La Tengo can rave-up with the best of them. The band can pass—as it has over the past fifteen years—as an art/noise band. But it can also play some of the quietest, most melodic, harmony-inflected songs around. It is in that mode, as Slow La Tengo, that the new CD proceeds, from the gentle tones of “Everyday” to the gentler tones of “Night Falls on Hoboken,” with eleven other strong songs in-between.
Over the years, the New Jersey threesome—which includes the husband-and-wife team of Kaplan and Hubley—have recorded 10-minute feedback freakouts, but they have also covered surf songs and Pete Seeger. “Eclectic” indeed seems the right adjective for the band—many albums, including their widely-praised last last effort, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, embody the band in both modes and sometimes on the same track.
The new album, though, is largely all of a piece—and an amazing piece it is. Textured, eerie, fuzzy, meditative, the album is smart the way the Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine, and the Jesus and Mary Chain were smart. They found a way to create a trance-like musical environment that matched, word-for-word, the sometimes surreal, sometimes simplistic lyrics. The effect is dirge-like without being depressing. More Lambchop than Leonard Cohen, more drone-with-irony than sturm-and-drang. The album is nearly a “concept” album, all of the songs feeling related—if only in tone—to one another. Even, surprisingly, the odd cover of “You Can Have it All, ” a disco hit from the the mid-seventies, seems to fit. While fans of the Tengo’s “noise” performances may find this album too low-key, those who always felt the band’s fourth album, “Fakebook,” was a work of genius will find And Then Nothing to be one of the band’s best (and wisest) albums yet.