There will probably never be a bad Yo La Tengo record: Too much invention and too many good ideas keep the group's projects from going completely sour. The downside, though, is that when the New Jersey-based trio makes a somewhat decent record, you feel let down. You know of their potential greatness; it was all over 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and everything they released in the previous decade. This high percentage of excellence is what makes Yo La Tengo's new album Summer Sun such a bummer. It follows the evolution of atmospheric soundscapes that the band explored on the last few LPs, but the songs are often too loose and too light to latch onto.
As the title suggests, Yo La Tengo explores sunny sounds and Brazilian beats on Summer Sun, though, true to form, many of the beats come compliments of a crusty analog drum machine. It seems that frontman Ira Kaplan has relinquished his title as the Jewish Jimi Hendrix and is now shooting for the title of the Jewish João Gilberto. His fiery electric guitar is all but absent, replaced by a classy Hammond organ on tracks such as "Moonrock Mambo." Lyrically, the songs tread the same ground of uneasy love and gentle reassurance; they aren't exactly beach blanket sing-alongs, but they ease into the flowing, formless sounds. No one captures the delicate intricacies of atmospherics as well as Yo La Tengo, and the record follows a nice ebb-and-flow that smooths out the shoreline with placid waters.
Summer Sun has some bright points, mostly on the songs that drummer Georgia Hubley sings, but its defining sound is the drone of mediocrity. But such is the unbearable burden of being Yo La Tengo, as a peerless ten-year run has come to an end.