We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
One of the best things about being a critic, assuming you’re trying to be fair-minded about it, is that you get to try on someone else’s conception of music every time you throw on a record. This wealth of possibility, however, can make creating your own sounds a bit difficult. Unless someone else solves the problem for you by asking you to join one of your favorite bands, as when Spin‘s Jim Greer was invited to play bass for Guided by Voices, it can be hard to settle down. For years, Ira Kaplan’s Yo La Tengo displayed the critical catholicity that characterized 1990’s Fakebook, which contained covers ranging from the Holy Modal Rounders to John Cale to the Flamin’ Groovies to, yes, Yo La Tengo. But on 1993’s Painful, the Hoboken trio successfully merged its tastes for both lilting folk-rock and humming distortion into a signature style. At its best, the follow-up, Electr-O-Pura, works similar ground, mining veins of melancholy and longing on “Pablo and Andrea” and blending dreamy organ with guitar screech on “Blue Line Swinger.” At its worst, it veers into barren territory, as on the aimless “False Alarm.” In between, certain critics’-band obstacles persist. Although Yo La Tengo makes some good noise (a six-and-a-half-minute tremolo drone bristles with menace), the result can be somewhat derivative (it sounds suspiciously like Sonic Youth’s “Theresa’s Sound-World”) and they don’t necessarily know what to call it (it’s named “Flying Lesson [Hot Chicken 1]”).