I have my friend RP to thank for getting into Yo La Tengo. Until I started at university, I only knew of the band via their referential, reverential song- and album-titles (example: I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass). Then, I met RP, who plays cello in this band, and who lived above me in halls. We swapped mixtapes, and I had to up my game, naturally.
Yo La Tengo’s output vacillates between Beatles-y pop and Sonic Youth-esque experimental freak-outs. Then, in 2000, they released And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, which is possibly my favourite of their albums. It is an extremely quiet album, which undresses itself by degrees, without revealing everything. Built on ambient drones and oddly disembodied drum machines, its songs only rarely edge into livelier territory: mostly, it sounds like displaced children creeping around suburban homes (see the album artwork, left, which is the work of Gregory Crewdson). If that sounds too forbidding, consider that I would offer a similar description to the music of The xx. Also, you should know that the band has a delicious sense of humour (“When in Nashville, visit Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack” etc.).
The album opens with “Everyday“, which is the perfect point of entry. Leave your preconceptions at the gate, and step inside a microcosmic world of faintly dripping taps, electrical humming, the rustling of crockery in the dishwasher. Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, the married couple who are at the heart of the band, murmur nonsensical couplets, softly, in harmony.
“I want to cross my heart,
I want to hope to die.
I hear Kate Moss talk, she talks to me:
She’s looking for a new beginning, everyday.”
Halfway through, an insistent baritone guitar lurks in, and a theremin-like whistling drifts near the top of the mix. The arrangement sounds like it’s coalescing into a suburban nightmare, and yet each element remains isolated, dissonant and perpetually thrilling.