Georgia, Ira, and James get all “Blue Line Swinger” on us on this EP’s title track, a revved-up version of the Summer Sun song. It’s all fuzz guitars and plinky, White Light, White Heat piano pushing the song ahead. It’s frantic and exciting and a reminder of how deftly this band manages to have it both ways: breathy, cinematic songs that top those from pretty much every other band, and groovy, sweaty guitar freakouts that make just as much sense and set the bar at a height that the remaining bands can’t reach either. If you saw them live on their last tour, or at least if you saw them with me at Lupo’s in Providence, you really didn’t need to be reminded. They worked the shit out of some of the noisier tracks from Painful and Electr-O-Pura and opened up the Summer Sun songs in a way that the album really only hinted at.
The EP is also a reminder of their excellent taste and self-awareness. Georgia gives a touching version of Bert Jansch’s “Needle of Death”, but they were wise to leave it for a B-side. Recorded in 1999, the song probably wasn’t considered for inclusion on either of the last two albums because it would have too drastically changed the flavor of whichever full-length it had been placed on. It’s maybe a little too literal, its melancholy too sorrowful. And though I like it better when she’s advising us to be aware of the need for help (on their version of Alex Chilton’s “Take Care”) it’s tough not to be broken down by how weary yet resigned to carrying on she sounds recounting a graveside scene and signing, “Tears have filled the eyes of friends that you once walked among”.
“Styles of the Times”, with its insistent drumming and almost defiant indifference, works better than most of the Ira-sung songs that made it onto Summer Sun. There, he came off as a little mild. Here, when he sings “If it’s up to me I guess I’ll leave it up to you” it’s still easy to get frustrated with his passivity, especially because it’s obvious that the guy is no pushover. The song is great, though, even while it makes sense why they didn’t include it on the album; it’s not necessarily new territory for them. The same goes for “Outsmartner” (with Ira and Georgia on dual vocals), the third song here originally recorded for their last album. All three are certainly good enough to warrant an EP being built around them and saying that they aren’t really breaking any new ground isn’t much of a criticism; Yo La Tengo‘s old territory is still a lot more fruitful than the brightest horizon that most bands can hope for.
More straight-ahead and accessible than their last few between-album releases—no remixes, no children chanting “mother fucker” and no songs to accompany sea life reproducing—Today is the Day is a nice, noisy complement to 1995’s Camp Yo La Tengo. They echo that EP in their slightly overdone acoustic take on ...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out‘s “Cherry Chapstick”. Reduced to its basic parts, the song doesn’t really stand; it’s just more fun with a blazing guitar riff behind it. Georgia fared better heading up Camp Yo La Tengo‘s acoustic versions of “Tom Courtenay” and “Blue Line Swinger”. But five winners, counting the instrumental “Dr. Crash”, make the EP more than worthwhile. And most amazing is how they’re still able to make staying at the top of their game look so easy.
// Notes from the Road
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