Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (1995)

The centerpiece of an epic mid-90s three-album run that defined the indie rock 90s for me (alongside Pavement's Slanted & Enchanted/Crooked Rain/Wowee Zowee trilogy), Electr-O-Pura perfectly encapsulates Yo La Tengo's varied strengths.  You've got mellow, ambient ballads; extended guitar freak-outs; and pithy almost radio-friendly noise pop ditties -- all jumbled in an unpredictable but endlessly engaging epic long player.

In the indie pop camp, you've got "Tom Courtenay," one of the band's finest singles, an incessantly catchy hook under a wall of fuzz, bolstered by Georgia & James' "ba-ba-ba" chirpy harmonies in the chorus and cryptic lyrics touching on long-forgotten movie stars.  (They also recorded a terrific acoustic version, confirming the strength of the song even stripped of the churning wall of guitars.)  Equally great is opening track "Decora," haunting vocals from Georgia, Ira's effect pedals providing an entrancing drone over a simple guitar and bass lines.

You've also got the noisier extended workouts.  Closing track "Blue Line Swinger," long a live staple, is breathtaking, an agonizingly slow build based around a repeated thump of the drums, gradually picking up pace before locking in on a killer groove and a return to the ba-ba-ba's from "Tom Courtenay."  More direct is "Flying Lesson," a hypnotic guitar groove that launches into a frenzied distortion-fest jam.  "False Alarm" is Velvet-y noise post-punk amphetamine-speed fury backed by insistent organ pulse.

And then there are the gorgeous ballads like "Pablo and Andrea" and "Don't Say A Word," the hushed, spooky "Paul Is Dead," as well as the lovely, striking "Ballad of Red Buckets," which sounds like the perfect soundtrack for some indie film noir.

And not to be too cliched about it, but it's one of those albums that gets better with each listen; the poppier tracks get your attention first, while the quieter ones (and the noisier ones) dig their hooks in a little more slowly.  But by the time you get all the way through "Blue Line Swinger" you've been on an almost physical journey, hitting every sonic extreme along the way.  It's a landmark of indie rock and one which merits those repeated listens.

As with many of their great 90s singles, the band made a surprisingly entertaining video for "Tom Courtenay"; for some reason I can't find it on YouTube, but you can watch it here.  Meanwhile, here's a live version:
(And for contrast, here's an acoustic, Georgia-helmed version:)
Here's "Decora" live:
...and of course "Blue Line Swinger," in all its glorious live splendor:

Comments

  1. Here is a link to that great video - https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xtoel

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