Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Roadkill

Yo La Tengo
Liberty Lunch
Friday, June 20

"I think James is completely responsible for it," offers Yo La Tengo guitarist/singer Ira Kaplan, speaking of bassist James McNew's contribution to the near bipolarity of the band's origins and present state. "We feel that the last three albums, in many ways, are like the beginning of the group. Before, the bass players tended to come and go and they weren't really devoted to the band, but with James we'd get together and practice every day -- it was a band, which it really wasn't until then."

On their most recent Matador release, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, even the vocals are, well, pretty. Kaplan's sing-speak has been largely supplanted, and he and drummer Georgia Hubley's harmonies often approach the sublime. "Georgia, although she always sounds beautiful when she sings, is singing in a much wider range than she has in the past, particularly higher," explains Kaplan. "I think the singing parts were more demanding and we issued kind of a challenge to ourselves to pull it off."

A large part of the charm and appeal of the old Yo La Tengo was the underdevelopment of their sound. The melodies were simple and catchy, the guitar solos were noisy, and there was always a question of which came first, capability or inspiration. Surely all that can't be sacrificed on the altar of experience. What of the old songs?

"I don't think the audience is really dying to hear the old songs," he says. "We take a lot of requests, and if they request one that we're comfortable doing at the right time, we'd do it. We have visited every record over the course of the tour, so we're not avoiding them... I think a lot of those songs are like looking at a high school yearbook or a home movie or something. You can kind of see yourself, but in a sense, I guess you're disconnected."

But there are ways around growing too much.

"You can't help but gain a little dexterity just from playing as long as we have," says Kaplan. "But sometimes we try to counter it by switching instruments, looking for an instrument that we can play a little worse." -- Christopher Hess

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