Listening - Monday, August 31st 2020

We Have Amnesia Sometimes

I stopped writing in this listening journal back in February. Of course I kept listening, but at some point the idea of trying to write about everything I listen to started to weigh poorly on my listening choices. I don’t need to write about everything I listen to, so I won’t.

Going forward I’ll just write something here when it feels like fun. Not because I have anything special to say per se, or because the things I listen to have some special weight but just because I feel like writing a little bit. I felt like writing a little bit today. :-)

I also haven’t been listening to very much music for the past few weeks – the happy exception being the new routine of Sunday listening club meetings with a small group of friends.

Most of this new Yo La Tengo album has been sitting on my hard drive unplayed for quite a while. Between the time I picked up three of the tracks on bandcamp and now they’ve collated it into an album and even pressed an LP. So, I accidentally listened to two tracks out of order before I realized there were more, and everything had been collected.

I’ve heard very little of Yo La Tengo’s music. In high school, their and then nothing turned itself inside out record was coveted by friends, and I did spend some time with it because of their enthusiasm. Last year, I picked up a dirt cheap copy of it on discogs curious to revisit – and honestly I’ll have to spend more time with it to feel like I have anything to say. It still didn’t really hit me in a particular way, but I remember it as a nice album anyway.

I was curious about these tracks now called We Have Amnesia Sometimes partly because I’d like to give this band another chance, partly because Marc Weidenbaum wrote something nice about one of them, partly because I wanted to see what had or hadn’t changed in the 20 years since nothing turned itself inside out, but mostly because these songs are all just recordings from improvisations / jams during their normal rehearsals. I was aware of their reputation as improvisers and being a rock band I assume they get into the psych/jam band territory as improvisers which is something I generally enjoy even from groups that aren’t the most skillful improvisers, whatever that means.

Based on the titles (and from what I remember of the pace of the releases on bandcamp when they were coming out as singles) I think each track is a curated moment from some part of that day’s rehearsal, one for each day of the week Monday through Friday. If I had to pick a favorite, Wednesday’s James Gets Up And Watches Mourning Birds With Abraham has a nice Arnold Dreyblatt drive to it and feels maybe the most composed of the bunch. On the whole though all of these tracks follow essentially the same pattern which is well-worn by jam bands of all walks: settle into a droning groove & do a bit of solo work on top. The lone exception being the final track which is mostly drum-free, but otherwise essentially follows the same pattern. Nothing on this album jumps out at me to validate the praise I’ve heard about their skill for improvisation, but that’s not to say the songs don’t hang together or that it sounds like they aren’t listening to each other, etc. For me these are best listened to not as improvisations really but just as what they are: a rock band nicely screwing around in their rehearsal space. (And the louder I play these, the better they sound – probably the best listening experience would be on a mono PA system cranked up at least enough to match the volume of a rock drummer in a mid-sized room.) To be honest I might enjoy these more if they were all three or four times as long and had enough time to actually sprawl out into the meditative jam zones they tease.

Thankfully they had the good sense to stop after a week’s worth of recording though. This is a nice snapshot in time, and I think I’ll come back to it next time I feel like playing their music, but it would quickly fall over on itself as a never-ending series. I don’t really feel like there are any tracks on here that stand out as something extremely special, but that’s also the charm of the collection. I’d like to hear documents like this in the future from them, but let some time pass. Yo La Tengo, are you listening? ;-) It could be a nice yearly event to set down these relaxed interstitial moments in the workshop. This window into their rehearsal space is fun and pleasant in a way that a highly polished worked-over studio album could never be.