Even in their most sonically
distorted and bracing moments of yesteryear, Yo La Tengo always has been about the quiet
drone underneath, the warm amped acoustic guitar, the reedy Moog, the rumbling light-touch
tribal drums and Ira Kaplan's shy, sweet-boy vocals. This time they take everything down a
few notches, creating the ultimate soundtrack to every midnight moment you've spent wide
awake, driving home alone at 2 a.m. after the party, neither depressed nor elated, just
content watching the striped highway line go on and on and on.
Yo La Tengo plays music that is both lonely and sexy. These are strung-out jams lost in
rhythms and pulses, dark-blue radiance and subtle cymbal-shimmers.
Rarely has this band focused so tightly on creating such an utterly tranquil mood. It's
not all soothing moments, however. "Cherry Chapstick" is drowning in distortion,
while the organ-driven "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House," thumps along just fine
with Georgia Hubley laying down "The Girl from Ipanema"-style vocals. The
summery shuffle of "Madeline" sounds like futuristic lounge music, its backing
ba-dee-da's slipped in underneath feel like slightly sedated Esquivel. The instrumental
"Tired Hippo" is all secret agent bosso-lounge, thanks to James McNew's
thrum-pulse bass, some trippy organ and the ultimate spy-guitar. Their cover of George
McRae's "You Can Have it All," takes disco and turns it into flat-black
lounge-soul, with Hubley coming off sugar sweet on a song that's already pretty damn
The rest of the CD is dreamy, sleepy, sedated soundscapes, layering quiet organ, simple
rhythm guitars and light, echoing drums. Call it ethereal. And no more so than on the
17:41-minute "Night Falls on Hoboken," which is one long journey into thick,
warm-blue goo. Throughout, the lyrics are as fragile and airy as the music. "The Last
Days of Disco" is Kaplan coyly singing, "And the song said let's be
happy/And I was happy". You tend to forget that they're lyrics and not just
another vehicle to emit a tone, shade or delicate accent on an already densely layered
soundscape. In other words, they rarely distract.
The last time I heard anything capture a mood quite this perfectly was the Cowboy
Junkies' first album. But that one was a downer, while And Then nothing turned itself
inside-out fills you with wonder, hope and a bit of mystery, as it leads you
comfortably by the hand through the darkness.