China: 20 Years of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

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Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One

Released April 22nd, 1997 on Matador Records

BestEverAlbums:  #432

RYM:  #289

I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, Yo La Tengo’s eighth album, is in a sense a breakthrough album, although in a very real sense it’s meaningless to talk of “breakthrough albums” for a band like Yo La Tengo.  Although the band, formed around the husband and wife duo of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, has been in continuous existence since 1984 (marking 14 albums in 2015), their visible success has been rather limited.  They’ve never been the “Voice of a Generation” even during the height of the Alternative Revolution; they’ve never sold scads of records; it’s only been since the proliferation of indie music on the internet and the age of big lifestyle festivals that they’ve had headlining slots.  Yet when it comes to the conversation of what the best albums ever made were, Yo La Tengo albums often slot in seamlessly, and without fuss.

I’ve read on several occasions that Yo La Tengo aren’t a popular band, they’re a critic’s band.  They’re a band tailor-made to be a sort of shared open secret among people who spend far too much of their time thinking and writing about music.  Part of this lies in the fact that they’re just too subtle to really get a berth in the world of mainstream success.  There’s something like the vibe of Sonic Youth in a lot of their music, but where Kim and Thurston made their point with squalling feedback, laser-beam guitars, and twenty-minute Velvet Underground-esque suites, Yo La Tengo do it in a much more laid-back fashion.  Even a relatively hard-charging song like “Little Honda” holds back and remains somewhat aloof from going all-out.  It’s gentle, dreamy persuasion rather than drugged-out noise-mining – check out “Green Arrow” and the opening track “Return To Hot Chicken” for purely instrumental evidence of this.

While the group had been signed to Matador for four years, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One was the album that made all of those aforementioned critics finally sit up and take notice en masse.  It was a breakthrough for the band’s audience, if not the mainstream at large, and it’s not hard to see why.  There are some serious pop tracks here, as in the bass-heavy “Moby Octopad”, the power-sweetened “Sugarcube” and “Autumn Sweater”, the breezy, twee closer “My Little Corner Of The World”, and the wispy nostalgia rocker “Little Honda”.  “Deeper Into Movies”, “Stockholm Syndrome” and “One PM Again” balance that out with subtle mood-shifters that at a glance seem to just float by, but like a deep, wide river, there’s always much more going on underneath.  The group jump from sound to sound, crossing genres like one would cross a stream, and with every experiment they prove themselves to be shockingly competent at it.

From 1997 on out, every new Yo La Tengo album was greeted with anticipation from the critic’s community; many of them even charted briefly on the U.S. Billboard chart (not enough for them to have an honest mainstream moment, but enough to prove that there were people listening out there in the world).  As far as Yo La Tengo albums go, however, it remains for me the high point of their discography, outlining in bold everything they were ever good at, and then some.

 

 

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