Yo La Tengo: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Reviewing this album is like trying to describe a cool and sunny Sunday afternoon -- no liberal expenditure of adjectives and verbs can recreate the experience of just sitting and taking it all in while relaxing.

Yo La Tengo

I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2006-09-12
UK Release Date: 2006-09-11

Yo La Tengo have been around for over 20 years now, and, as you might imagine, their sound has morphed along the way. While their early years saw the band perfecting atmospheric noise rock, the band has increasingly sounded like a jazz band, stretching their songs into extended explorations of noise that are simultaneously untamed and controlled -- which, you might say, are the two contradictory yet organic attributes of jazz. Their last two albums, ...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and Summer Sun, were quiet affairs -- the former more somber and lunar; the latter, naturally, more upbeat and sunny. Both LPs, however, were hushed and ethereal, slowly spreading out from the center until they dissolved into the air. Both were also reflective and ambient meditations on love, albums so understated and subtle they are strangely overwhelming.

How, then, is Yo La Tengo supposed to follow up on two thematically-linked releases, the first a masterpiece and the second its captivating counterpoint? Well, if you're Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew, you start with an ironic but attention-grabbing title: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. Whatever your thoughts on the album, this, you must concede, is the title of the year -- and it couldn't be more apt. No, Yo La Tengo aren't tough guys; three plump, middle-aged bohemians from Hoboken don’t exactly arouse fear in anyone. But Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have led about as fearless a career a band could forge, ignoring both popular trends and mainstream indifference. It's not shocking, then, that the new album will beat your ass.

Indeed, the title merely hints at what's within the album. Rather than trying to maintain the feel of their last couple of albums, Yo La Tengo have made a stunning LP that is sprawling and eclectic; static-driven buzz rock is placed next to jazzy piano jaunts, which are in turn placed next to reflective ballads -- and that's just the first fourth of the album. If you listened to the songs separately and at different times, you'd think they were from different albums, if not different bands. But this is a captivating listen, not a disjointed one, and the unifying element is the band's confident musicianship, the kind displayed by seasoned musicians who aren't afraid to let inspiration take them somewhere unexpected and rewarding.

To prove this, the trio begins the album with "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", a 10-minute, 46-second hypnotic-psychedelic-surf-jam marked by a driving bass riff and fuzzed-out guitar. While the track initially sounds like it's going nowhere fast, it soon burrows into your head, making more sense the longer it refuses to conform to verses and choruses. This is followed up by "Beanbag Chair", a chirpy piano romp with horns and falsetto vocals. And then comes "I Feel Like Going Home", which is a ballad built upon an arthritic violin and Georgia Hubley's demurely enigmatic vocals. Then there's "Mr. Tough", which sounds like Prince fronting the Vince Guiraldi Trio. You see where this is going... To detail the album track by track is to merely give the Cliff's Notes-version of a captivating work of art. You could easily point to the last third of the album for examples of great tunes; "The Weakest Part" is Sunday-morning jazz -- all sunshine and bouncing about -- while closing track "The Story of Yo La Tengo" is complete noise rock, making brilliant static for over 11 minutes.

Reviewing this album, then, is like trying to describe a cool and sunny Sunday afternoon -- no liberal expenditure of adjectives and verbs can recreate the experience of just sitting and taking it all in while relaxing. If you like avant-garde rock, it's here; then again, if you like melodic-pop rock, it's here too. Most bands just don't possess the gravitas to effectively put the two together.

Yes, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is nothing if not dazzling, and Kaplan, Hubley, and McNew have grown into their roles as veterans and gatekeepers of the indie scene. Like their peers Sonic Youth and perhaps Wilco, Yo La Tengo have reached the point in their career where they are free to experiment without having to prove anything, and perhaps that feeling of creative liberation is what spawned such an astonishing album. Whatever the artistic catalyst, this is another gem by one of rock’s most accomplished and enduring bands, which, unfortunately, means the album is destined to see its way into too few CD players. Somehow, though, it's hard to imagine Yo La Tengo fretting about not connecting with the "cool" kids... What have they done lately that approaches this level of brilliance?




Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'The Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.