Picking up from where we left off on this countdown of favorite records from the last decade. Something that’s become increasingly clearer to me as I look back on the albums from 2000-2010 is that it was such a fantastic fucking decade for music. There’s a certain generational guilt that dictates we should sanctify and idolize decades past, as if the absolute best, most important, most imaginative, most earth-shatteringly revolutionary work was already pumped out by these near-mythological creatures from a nebulous past that was somehow better, and everything since has been diminishing returns. Staunch advocates for the 1960s will scoff disdainfully if you mention a latter-day gem in the same breath as one of the albums our culture has deified– your “Sgt. Peppers”s, your “Highway 61″s, your “Pet Sounds”s. These great albums have reached such a level of devotion, and are held in such high regard, that it’s a wonder why music didn’t just stop, put on its hat, pick up its coat and declare “welp, my work here is done. I have clearly peaked”, swiftly closing up shop and leaving humanity to chase its next cultural whimsy.
Well, this particular countdown is as much of an opportunity for me to gush about some of my favorite records as it is about sticking up for a decade that has, in conversations about music history, continuously gotten the short end of the stick– derided as derivative, pretentious, too self-aware for its own good. It’s a decade of musical output where the rules had already been set, broken, reinvented and broken again– where the world was too vast to be politically relevant, too grounded to be psychedelic, too dour to be fun, too lighthearted to be dour. So the song craftsmen and performers of the decade turned elsewhere, towards the semitones. High dynamic range. The punk ethos of the 1970s was brought to its full, actual realization in the democratization of music production and distribution, and all these strange combinations of colors arose from the smoking embers of the toppled regime. In light of this, the outliers from the old years start making more sense, suddenly and harmoniously fitting in with the rest of the puzzle pieces.
Yo La Tengo’s “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” is one of those turn-of-the-century albums that made a lot more sense upon revisiting years later. A move towards cloudier soundscapes, quieter arrangements and airier production that could still build tension and explode with bursts of abrasiveness and noise. That this album came out after they’d already put out eight others is formidable: most bands have dried up their creative wells at that point in their career, or settled so stiffly into a sound that they’re incapable of operating outside the realms of a very specific template. Instead, Yo La Tengo delivered what is probably my favorite album of theirs– an evocative, elegant piece of art that exists gladly and serenely outside the constraints of conventional songwriting.
“And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” is an album that features a different kind of introspection: one that inhabits moments and spaces rather than the hubris and self-doubt of the confessional singer-songwriter trope; half-remembered hum-alongs and comfortable silences and taciturn pauses. There’s an aura of mystery around all these songs, of contented wonder, like whispered sentiments that are swallowed by the buzz and creek of the space around us: when it doesn’t matter what is said but that we cared enough to speak at all. This is an album rich with memories– every song feels lived-in, thoroughly familiar, like what we’re hearing are intimate, slumberous renditions of old favorites that will never be released: a wonderful secret we’re being let in on. The performances groove and rumble and meander placidly along as the songs dissipate into each other. Like a dream upon waking, remaining hazily poignant.
Listen to the lovely album track “Last Days of Disco” by clicking the embedded player below:[audio https://jorgefarah.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/05-last-days-of-disco.mp3]