Four years on from their debut, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo released a curious collection of covers and original material rendered in an acoustic fashion, some way from their normal sound. 1990’s ‘Fakebook’ is one of many treasures in the band’s vast catalogue, a collection of thirteen records which is littered with far more adventurous sonic textures than that demure sideways move. Covering Cat Stevens, The Kinks and Gene Clark, its source material was faultless, even though the band were no slouches when it came to delivering enduring songs of their own. Listening now, it feels a little anaemic, but faded like a photo from your youth and no less charming for it.
All of which made it seem rather odd that they opted to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary with a set following much the same model. ‘Stuff Like That There’ is, once again, an acoustic record focusing mainly on covers, but peppered with re-readings of their own tracks. The stimuli are no less well chosen than those selected a quarter of a century previous, and even since-departed guitarist Dave Schramm returns, having been part of ‘Fakebook’. The big difference, however, is an enveloping warmth to the sound, with brushed drums and a notable proximity to the microphone.
Georgia Hubley takes a far greater share of the vocals than normal and her hushed, intimate delivery is the magical ingredient on this collection. From the opening reading of Darlene McCrea’s ‘My Heart’s Not In It’, past a stunning take on that hardy country perennial ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and onto a surprisingly moving mid-paced shuffle through The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’, Hubley’s voice pulls all of these songs into focus. It makes for a remarkably cohesive listen which, no matter how inspired the choices, is rarely the case with covers albums.
If 2013’s ‘Fade’ was your first exposure to the band then ‘Stuff Like That There’ will come as something of a shock, though not an unpleasant one. However, those who’ve been along for the ride will be entirely familiar with this aspect of their nature. The capacity to rework The Parliaments’ Northern Soul shuffle ‘I Can Feel The Ice Melting’ as a twanging Sixties swing-pop delight is almost as remarkable as the reinterpretation of their own ‘Deeper Into Movies’, which repositions a wall of noise fuzzfest as a spaced out, wild-eyed meditation. It rather neatly paves the way for a closing take on The Cosmic Rays and Sun Ra’s magical ‘Somebody’s In Love’.
What ultimately makes ‘Stuff Like That There’ such an appealing record is the obvious delight in performing these songs. They aren’t tired, note for note re-treads, but the respect, admiration and passion that the band have for the nine artists covered within is evident in the immersive way in which they undertake each and every track. Curio, reunion, anniversary or whatever, the main thing you need to know is that these fourteen songs stand up on their own, even with all context removed.