When I was 19 I taught languages at a rich kids' summer camp in the woods in French Belgium, and made an everlasting friend called Dave who gave me a bunch of things to listen to that I treasure to this day: Bedhead, Latin Playboys, some Hawaiian guitar tracks, and Yo La Tengo. Return to Hot Chicken burned itself into my brain and despite ten thousand listens – far too many to count – a few notes of that album, and that titular song in particular, and everything is ok. For 26 years, Ira, Georgia and more recently James have been doing their thing with a singular lightness of touch, and intensity of focus. They are broad and generous in their sound, capable of building a song – like one might a ship – to take you away forever. I think their music is what I want the inside of my mind to sound like – the space I need, or the air I long for. Nightfalls on Hoboken, Last Days of Disco, Tiny Birds, Green Arrow, Big Day Coming, Decora, Sugarcube, Living in the Country, Pablo and Andrea, And the Glitter Is Gone, their covers of Gentle Hour, of By the Time it Gets Dark, of Nuclear War … as many songs that I sink into and long for them never to end. They hit a groove, they ride a particular beat with an organ or a guitar and it's mesmerising, magical, a sound for sore ears of which you wouldn't want to lose the slightest fragment. And then they throw a curveball, some Kramer-style madness or a witty little video about names and that bursts the bubble and reminds you you're listening to pop music, this is the real world, they are just musicians going about their day. And that is the beauty of it. When I first heard And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out I was so overwhelmed by it, I wrote to thank them. I'm not sure quite why but the best way I could think of at the time to describe how perfectly the album had filled me with joy was to refer to CS Lewis. Ira wrote back on the back of a Slinky postcard – he noted the irony and that made me smile. I spoke with him for The Quietus last month, ahead of their Meltdown session, which to my greatest annoyance I couldn't go to. He said not to worry, they'd make sure to do a second-rate show so I wouldn't miss much.
Oh how I love this band.
You can read the interview here. And you can listen to all my favourite YLT tracks here: