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Yo La Tengo | Today Is The Day (Matador)
Not ones to let pauses between 'proper' album pass unpunctuated (see the 'Little Honda' and 'Nuclear War' EPs and 'The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science' soundtrack for evidence), Hoboken's most self-reinventing art-rock trio follow their recent 'Summer Sun' album with this six-track set - arguably their best release since 1997's 'I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One' opus.
Certainly a game of two halves (more obvious on the 12" incarnation, no doubt), 'Today Is The Day' mixes three rocking outtakes from the 'Summer Sun' sessions with semi-lost outtakes from the last two or three prolific years.
The opening title-track is a more aggressive yet gliding makeover of a 'Summer Sun' highlight, with Georgia Hubley's timid vocals vying for attention against Ira Kaplan's fuzzy wall of guitars, in the process recalling the band's classic 1993 album 'Painful'. The even fuzzier Ira-sung Styles Of The Times follows suit with 'Electr-O-Pura'-like amp crankage, throbbing bass and jazzy drum clatter. Even better still is the oblique Outsmartener, wherein Ira and Georgia duet amongst a cacophony of Sonic Youth-flavoured string-mangling, self-referencing keyboard drones and 'some crazy double-reed horn' from guest player William Parker. Whilst it's possible to knock the threesome for flipping back to their retro-ish noise disturbance, it's a somewhat blessed release of tension after two albums of rather rigidly imposed tranquillity.
Anyone put off by such old-school indie-rock racket making, will however be content with 'side two' of this selection, which represents the quieter strains of the YLT idiom. First up is a gorgeous unplugged take on Burt Jansch's Needle Of Death, which is definitely up there with the best of 'Fakebook' (the band's 1990 covers-heavy, folk-country collection).  The playful lounge-core of Dr. Crash follows as a more than serviceable instrumental interlude, before sliding into an utterly sublime slow-mo acoustic revision of Cherry Chapstick (previously the only real rocker from 2000's languid but lethargic 'And Then Nothing Turned Itself Outside-Out') with Ira's vocal hitting a realm of warm pathos he sometimes overshoots with self-indulgence.  
Whether this six-tracker is any stylistic indicator of the next full-length Yo La Tengo release remains to seen and heard, but if they can keep to this collection's eclectic ethos, then we could be in for a real mouth-watering treat.

Adrian Pannett
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003

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