Like most of us, Yo La Tengo have had a weird year. But the long-running band is making the most of things with two fresh releases: some things old, some things new, some things borrowed, some things blue. The new comes in the form of We Have Amnesia Sometimes, a collection of instrumental rehearsal room pieces that showcases YLT at their most abstract and improvisatory. Recorded this spring, this stuff is moody and strange — basically the way we were all feeling back then. It might come across as formless, fragmentary and even a little alienating at first. But as you sink deeper into the sound, Amnesia is actually pretty welcoming — participatory, even. It’s like we’re hearing the band’s creative process as it happens, each moment a potential building block for further exploration. The listener’s imagination is the missing piece. Georgia, Ira and James have invited you into their little corner of the world and asked you: “What comes next?”
“What Comes Next,” is also, of course, the name of a tune from the band’s classic Fakebook, which turned 30 this year. Since the band already recorded a sequel (2014’s Stuff Like That There, you could think of the new Sleepless Night EP as Fakebook 2.5. This is YLT comfort food, a selection of five lovingly rendered covers and one original. The Byrds, Dylan, NRBQ, Ronnie Lane—they’re all given the Yo La treatment, with beautiful results. The Georgia-sung version of “Roll On Babe” is particularly beautiful, a Basement Tapes-y rendition pitched somewhere between lament and celebration. And the closing “Smile A Little Smile For Me” (originally by the Flying Machine) features one Ira’s most effecting vocals, a plea for tenderness, urging us to keep on tryin’. It’s not easy, but Yo La Tengo always helps. | t wilcox
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