Yo La Tengo: Electr-o-pura (25th Anniversary Reissue) (Matador) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, October 23rd, 2020  

Yo La Tengo

Electr-o-pura (25th Anniversary Reissue)

Matador

Sep 17, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The patient arc of Yo La Tengo is a model for justifying one’s own creative perseverance. For years they were a band that some thought were capable of doing great things one day, and then one day they started doing great things. The threshold between their ’80s offerings like Ride the Tiger and New Wave Hot Dogs to the big day coming of Painful in 1993 wasn’t visible until they had crossed it.

Even back in the pre-Internet era, it wasn’t all that common for bands to be afforded, or to afford themselves, a decade to grow into their sound—though Matador Records almost made it seem that way by harboring both Yo La Tengo and Guided by Voices on their roster at the same time. While the latter flew on prolificacy and the seats of their pants to get where they were going, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley seemed to approach their music in manner somewhere between that of erudite students and ardent tinkerers. A few new cogs and wheels were fitted for May I Sing with Me in 1992, and soon after everything clicked into place for the ’90s run that made their name. 

So 1995’s Electr-o-pura buzzes with the electricity of a band in the whirlwind of new discovery, despite it being their seventh album, not their second. Elements that have long since become hard to imagine Yo La Tengo without were still settling in at the time: James McNew had only joined a couple years earlier and his addition was key to their transformation, while Painful had been their first album for the still relatively new Matador. Nothing was set in stone and songs were subject to change up until the last minute. “One aggressive song they brought in had only two chords, and a bass part that descended into a chord change,” author Jesse Jarnow writes of the recording sessions for Electr-o-pura in his biography of the band, Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. “They removed the guitar, reset the song to piano and organ, added lyrics, and it became ‘The Hour Grows Late.’” 

That’s how the skeleton of a rocker was reconfigured into indie’s most concise response to “Turn the Page” and the arena histrionics of a bygone age. “As he fired up the drum machine/He stole a glance at the empty seats/He took a minute to re-tune his guitar/...as the hour grew late.” That it’s both a clever snapshot and wry in-joke doesn’t take away from the genuine, spare loveliness of “The Hour Grows Late,” and the same essentially goes for all of Electr-o-pura. Yo La Tengo’s inscrutable references and humor (purposefully, about half of the song times listed on the back cover are roughly accurate, while the other half are way off) and catalogue knowledge don’t interfere with what’s heartfelt. 

Painful took the big step and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One made the big statement, but Electr-o-pura has an alchemical cohesion by which each track informs the next and the whole thing circles back on itself. Even at its most fully formed—the instant rush of “Tom Courtenay,” the serene bubble of “Pablo and Andrea,” the final blowout of “Blue Line Swinger”—the feeling is kept loose, and then there are the passages of wily improvisation. “My Heart’s Reflection” is in one sense a six-minute guitar solo, but every memorable splat, sharp bend and errant palm mute endows the fragile tour de force with its depth of character. Twenty-five years later, and now reissued on vinyl as a double LP, Electr-o-pura is a document that still breathes with spontaneity. (www.yolatengo.com) 

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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