Summer Sun [Matador]


There are many red herrings to note when approaching Yo La Tengo's new Summer Sun: That it's just a light, pleasant record. That it's tackling the jazz palette again with such distinguished guests as bassist William Parker, trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr and saxophonist Daniel Carter. That it only gets interesting in the second half when more instrumental passages and jams take place.

Well, I started out thinking all of those things until I tried to just hear the songs as songs. And there are some simply gorgeous ones. The jazzy lounge number, How to Make A Baby Elephant Float, is part High Llamas and part Stereolab and it has this lovely lyric: "I like to hold hands when we walk/I'm not averse to pillow talk/But I prefer a private joke/The memory it evokes."

That same tenderness, from guitarist/vocalist Ira Kaplan appears again on Don't Have to be Sad: "Last night I was trying to read in bed/I got to watching you sleep instead/Even when I got tired I couldn't stop/Because I love you so/ And I pray you know/ But I'm not one for praying/You know I couldn't say that without making a joke." The gently slicing synth beat and the late-night jazz piano perfectly matches Kaplan's whispered vocal.

On Nothing But You and Me, Kaplan broods further: "I don't know how I lost control/ But I now know that it's true/ That the hurt I aimed at me misfired and came back to hurt you." The bass is atmospheric and brooding while a synth thunders at various points to add to Kaplan's misery. These songs are almost and could be confessions to his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley.

He cheers up more on the pretty, chiming pop of Season of the Shark. The song almost explains the album's title, Summer Sun, that it's time not to be afraid anymore, to come out and play, after all the darkness.

Which fits in with Hubley's bubbly retro instrumental, Georgia Vs Yo La Tengo, and her catchy Little Eyes, which is a plea to wake up and not waste the day. Even bassist James McNew gets in on the act with a rare vocal contribution on Tiny Birds, another tender love song.

Make no mistake. Summer Sun is not brilliant in the way that ...And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000) was, but it's not a throwaway album. You just have it play it more and then the words begin to ring as much as the guitars. - Philip Cheah

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