Yo La Tengo – ‘Stuff Like That There’

New Jersey indie-rock institution return with a deeply loveable covers album

In 2015, ‘Fakebook’ might sound like a satirical slogan on a T-shirt worn by someone who lives for internet memes, but it wasn’t always thus. Fans of Hoboken, New Jersey’s indie-rock institution Yo La Tengo will associate the word with an album the trio released back in 1990. Predominantly a covers album with a few re-recordings of their own songs thrown in, ‘Fakebook’ remains a lush, hushed demonstration of YLT’s heart-melting romanticism and versatility. To toast its 25th birthday, they’ve reprised its format with ‘Stuff Like That There’.

It’s an exercise in nostalgia pretty much by definition: there are two new songs from their own pen, the slyly jazzy ‘Rickety’ and understated tearjerker ‘Awhileaway’, but all the covers date from the previous century. Dave Schramm, a veteran Hoboken indie musician and early YLT member (including on ‘Fakebook’ itself), rejoins the group as a one-off. The core trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, though, have earned their reputation as matchless interpolators of other folks’ songs: there are literally hundreds of them on disc, MP3, YouTube and in gig-goers’ ailing memories. Small wonder, then, that ‘Stuff…’ harbours nuggets of delight.

‘My Heart’s Not In It’, a 1964 soul ballad originally sang by Darlene McCrea, singer with ‘50s American girl group The Cookies, and Hank Williams’ country staple ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ are given deliciously mopey renditions, all closely-mic’d strumming and weepy pedal steel. Hubley sings both, and is the album’s most valuable player; unlike Kaplan, her husband, and his whispery vocal style, she possesses a voice capable of doing these mid-century gems justice. That said, she fronts ‘Stuff…’’s one real misstep, a lackadaisical, jangly take on The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ that they don’t come close to reclaiming.

The group make an extra effort to big up some of their undersung peers of old – Great Plains, Special Pillow and Antietam, all bands who got lost in the glut of ’80s/’90s American indie. The results sound lovely, and quintessentially Yo La Tengo, which is perhaps counterproductive: over 30-plus years, they’ve honed their approach to a point where they can’t really sound like anyone except themselves. Mostly, though, this is the key to the deep likeability of ‘Stuff Like That There’.