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Yo La Tengo return with ‘Sleepless Nights’

ByEitan Orenstein

Nov 11, 2020

Indie rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo have returned with Sleepless Nights, their second EP of 2020. The New Jersey band, composed of teenage
sweethearts Ira Kaplin and Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew, have been prolific in their creativity for the past several decades, garnering extreme critical acclaim and cult fandom. This project, while doing nothing to harm their reputation, will doubtlessly stand as something of a cypher in their discography.

From the beginning of the 90s, Yo La Tengo have proved relentlessly their ability to push boundaries. From the art-noise rock sound of the mid 90s, with 1993’s Painful and 95’s Electr-o-Pura that just crackle with restless energy, to the blissful dream pop that came to fruition in the following decade, the end product for the trio has always been true sonic euphoria.

Recently, however, the band has run the risk of regressing to a sound always dangerous within ambient music: vapidity. Whilst 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out struck the perfect balance between hushed quietude and visceral emotion, 2018’s There’s a Riot Going On, though pretty at times, more often than not found itself fading into background music. July’s We Have Amnesia Sometimes took this trend further, offering the listener a succession of five continuously hazy, hypnotic drones, which bring to mind Lou Reed’s infamously dreaded Metal Machine Music in their formlessness.

Sleepless Night, regrettably, fails to buck this trend. Originally intended as the accompaniment to a retrospective for Japanese artist and Yo La Tengo fan Yoshimoto Nara at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it features a blend of covers from genres ranging from 50s blues to
60’s folk.

Their Delmore Brothers cover of ‘Blues, Stay Away From Me,’ is a highlight, as the trio’s three part harmony stars on track one. The one original on this EP, ‘Bleeding’, evokes the hushed ethereality of And Then Nothing, whilst the jangly country feel of Ronnie Lane’s 1974 ‘Roll On Babe’ is comforting. In covering Bob Dylan’s ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,’ however, the spacious, drawn-out sound becomes tiresome. One would rather just take a journey through Highway 61 Revisited itself. Eclectic, introspective, glossy, it certainly is, but it lacks the deep-rooted emotional punch necessary to escape from the reverie its listeners are still experiencing since their past couple projects.

Sleepless Nights is neither an assault to the reputation of one of music’s most consistently creative bands currently still active, nor provides enough substance to merit a breakthrough. It will surely go down as a picayune footnote in the band’s development. One hopes this is not
ultimately a definitive full stop.

Image: Mariano Regidor via Getty Images