Album: Yo la Tengo

Today Is the Day, Matador
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The Independent Culture

Formed in 1984, Yo La Tengo are probably the longest-serving exponents of the pre-electroclash, guitar-based New York art-rock style epitomised by the likes of Mission of Burma and Guided by Voices. Inquisitive and experimental in temperament, their albums have generally suffered from a lack of focus, their diversity making it hard to get a handle on their character. With the core duo of the guitarist Ira Kaplan and the drummer Georgia Hubley joined by the bassist James McNew, their Nineties output has developed a greater consistency, but even on this six-track mini-album, they tend to dart around restlessly from mode to mode, trying on one style then quickly discarding it in favour of another, like kids rummaging in a dressing-up box. It's just as well, then, that their musical trappings are so diversely attractive, from the new version of the title track, which lays Hubley's offhand, murmured vocal over Kaplan's layered guitars, to the surf/lounge instrumental "Dr Crash", with its wheedling electric sitar, and the Wire-esque punk-thrash of "Styles of the Times", with a lyric that's a model of postmodern referentiality, taking in Barcelona, radio, God, and "that guy Martin Sheen played in The Dead Zone". Elsewhere, William Parker's avant-jazz horn livens the sinister "Outsmartener", while Bert Jansch's heroin lament, "Needle of Death", receives a duly respectful, measured treatment.

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