Why Yo La Tengo’s ‘This Stupid World’ Could Be Your New Favorite Album

There are two sides to Yo La Tengo. Both are very good sides.

The first is quiet, contemplative Yo La Tengo. That’s the one we’ve seen the most of in recent years. Sometimes haunting and/or listless, other times endearing. Occasionally, like on tracks like Looney Tunes, a sonic lazy river that seemingly stretches forever.

The second is rocking Yo la Tengo. Sometimes it’s vaguely menacing, as with tracks like Shaker. The sound is locomotive. I’ll also include their poppier side and impeccable taste in picking covers here.

Either way, they’re giving us straight rippers with Kaplan barely in control, playing like one of those inflatable wavy guys you see at low-rent used car lots.

Instead of a specific direction, they just chose ‘em all

Messy. Precise. Jarring. Soothing. Over the last forty(ish) years, Yo La Tengo have consistently been an exercise in contradiction. And yet somehow, it all fits together nicely, as it’s supposed to. 

This is one of those bands that always sound like themselves, no matter what boundary they’re pushing or which norm they’re winging out a third-story window.

It’s always a YLT record, ya know?

On their latest release, “This Stupid World,” they’ve kept all of that going.

Sidebar: Yo La Tengo can be a band that makes you work before you get it. The full listening experience requires intention. There’s friction. The effort is always worth it, though, with something new revealing itself with every spin. And while they have some songs that could broadly be classified as singles, this band’s work is best heard from A1 to the closer.

So I have to say that for as much hype as there was leading up to the release of This Stupid World, I’m grateful that they only released a couple of tracks ahead of time. Hearing the record unfold for the first time is a joy. 

The record opens strong with Sinatra Drive Breakdown. Look, I know “motorik” is fast becoming the most overused adjective in my arsenal, right up there with “awesome” and “fantastic.” but for this track, it fits. Just trust me here.

Drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James “new guy since ‘92” Mcnew lay down a killer groove that promptly chugs on for 7+ minutes. So much for radio-friendly.

Another rule proudly ignored.

Next up is “Fallout,” easily their most pure pop offering since perhaps Ohm off of Fade, or Electr-O-Pura’s Tom Courtenay. With an easy rhythm and quasi-call-and-response-like chorus of:

Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time

Don’t be surprised if you get caught singing this at a red light. I’m not saying this has happened to me, but I’m not not saying it, either.

This band is famously introverted, with Hubley sometimes giving the impression that she’s using the drum kit as a shield. But perhaps more than anyone else, she has come more into her own with each release.

On “Aselestine,” her vocals are unguarded & lovely, even as she’s singing Where are you/The drugs don’t do/What you said they do.

On closer, “Miles Away,” they’re endearing as she laments those she’s lost along the way.

You feel alone
Friends are all gone
Keep wiping the dust from your eyes
So many signs
I must be blind
How few of them I see

But to get there, we get to get through a few more tracksKaplan’s usual knack for squishing an entire backstory into a paragraph is on display throughout the record, but perhaps no more so than on Apology Letter, where he sings:

It’s so clear
What I’m trying to say, but right on cue
It doesn’t ever come that easily
‘Cause the words
Derail on the way from me to you
It seems to happen with some frequency

Brain Capers is expansive and rides a thick groove. It’s relentless—and it’s my favorite song on the record. Kaplan is in full glorious wavy inflatable guy mode here.

The title track is a steely shoegaze monster. A weighted blanket of the band’s distortion and feedback, with Kaplan telling us, “This stupid world, it’s all we have.”

They know the only way out is through, and this is their way of telling us that if it’s not gonna end well, we can at least have a good time on the way down.

Bottom Line: Yo La Tengo has never been a band that fits nicely in a box, and 2023’s no time to start. They’ve gone from critics darling to your favorite band’s favorite band to indie rock elder statesmen.

And all of that from a band that feels more like neighbors you’d ask to watch your house while on vacation.

With seventeen records and a bunch of EPs and singles, this would’ve been a fine capstone to a storied discography. Instead, it feels like a band hitting its stride with the best yet to come. 

The 5 Latest Additions to My Record Collection

Another “little bit of everything” edition

B-Side records. Photo: Henry Alexander

Here’s to great teachers!

My son has photography as an elective this semester, and his class took a field trip downtown last week.

Remember when we’d get excited to see a teacher roll a TV in on a cart, and it was movie day? You knew you could just relax and kinda mail it in? This is the educator’s equivalent. There are 2–3 stops every school in this town makes, and regardless of what year you go, you usually come away being able to tell the same story- we went to the capital, we took some shots of the lake, etc. Only the clothes change.

Except that’s not what happened this time.

Sure, they touched all the usual bases, but somewhere along the way, she decided they should stop into one of the record stores downtown. This particular shop is small enough that you have to know how to sidle to navigate it, so 25 kids must’ve seemed like…a LOT.

But more than a few kids picked up some records, which was apparently the day’s highlight. My son grabbed a couple of hip-hop records I’d never touch, but I gotta say it was pretty cool to get a text asking if he could grab ’em.

My point in telling you all of this? Two things. First, sometimes even the most rudimentary experiences can wind up being novel.

Second, you never know what you’re gonna find in the crates. I guarantee my kid didn’t wake up that morning knowing he’d come home with two records, but that’s exactly what happened (and some really good pictures too). But that’s half the fun of going crate digging in the first place, right?

You might walk in with a list, but when another LP leaps into your arms? That makes it all worthwhile.

A few days prior, I’d gone on my own field trip to my usual store just a short distance away. I went 0-for-everything as far as my list went but came away with several other records I didn’t know I needed until they told me.

Yo La Tengo- Fade (OLE 944–1, 2013)

Lately, I’ve listened to more & more Yo La Tengo. It’s a deep discography, and few rabbit holes are more fun to jump down.

Part of the appeal is that their music requires attention. I mean, you can have it on in the background — especially a record like The Sounds of the Sounds of Science — but it’s best experienced intentionally. When one does so, the songs reveal something new every time.

I’ve been rotating through the trio of This Stupid WorldPainful (my favorite), and Fade. Yo La Tengo can be alternately cool or confessional. Fade splits the difference. Opener “Ohm” is easily one of the poppiest songs they’ve ever created, and “Paddle Forward” feels vaguely unsettling.

Both are fantastic work.

Cleaners from Venus- Midnight Cleaners (reissue, CT-147, 2012)

If Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard has a spirit animal, it’s The Cleaners from Venus’ Martin Newell.

I’m convinced, and It’ll only take a track or two from each band for you to buy in as well.

This record is split between an “art side” and a “pop side.” The latter has some of the best infectious lo-fi sounds going.

I’d been looking for this for quite a while before happening on it in the wild. It’s a reissue, but I’m cool with it. That’s for the purists on Discogs & AllMusic to quibble about.

Delaney & Bonnie– Accept No Substitutes (EKS-74039, 1969)

It’s ironic that the first words we hear on this record are, “We’ve got to get ourselves together/take some time and talk it over/we’ve got to get ourselves together/try to understand each other.”

By most accounts, the entire session was a hot mess, with everyone at each other’s throats and no shortage of screaming at one another.

At some point, each musician took their turn storming out of the studio. Dr. John wrote the track “When The Battle Is Over” and came in to teach the band how to play it- he also was kicking heroin at the time and was in full detox mode, sweating and shivering as he forced his way through the track.

Despite all that, something magical happened. Having a backing band that included Leon Russell, Jim Keltner, and Rita Coolidge (among others) surely helped. This record perfectly blends white soul, blues, and a good dose of kicks rocks. It’s raw, and my copy is a little rough around the edges- just like the music itself.

It’s an easy album to get into despite what it took to get it made.

Note: Bonnie & Delaney’s daughter Bekka, was Fleetwood Mac’s singer on Behind The Mask & Time along with her partner guitarist Billy Burnette

George Symonette & his Goombay Sextette, S/T (BR 34, 1961)

I am still on my Caribbean music kick, which fits the bill nicely. We’ve entered the “false spring” stage of winter up here, where it alternates between temps flirting with the ’50s and slush. It’s bleak, and some sunny rhythms go a long way toward making that tolerable.

Sidebar: One of my favorite things about some of these older records is the completely unpretentious nature of the liner notes, or in this case, the back cover:

The Dean of Bahamian Entertainers, Genial George Symonette finds it more convenient to sit sideways while accompanying himself at the piano. He plays and sings because he enjoys doing so and his natural humor and joi de vivre sparkle in his performance.

While formerly catering only to night club patrons George Symonette has now responded to the demands of a wider audience and is a familiar part of the Bay Street scene during the lunch hour as well as in the evening.

He is frequently accompanied by Berkeley “Peanuts” Taylor on Bongos and drums and the two entertainers have appeared together on several television programs, notably Today and Tonight.

The label advertised it as “Strong VG,” and at $4.99, it was a strong bet that I’d like this. And I did.

Pretenders- S/T (SRK0 6083, 1979)

Probably the one record on this list every reader had but me. I don’t know why it took me so long to find a copy of this. There are a bazillion of ’em out there, but somehow I could never find just the right one. Poor condition, too much money; some reason or another always managed to get in the way. Until now.

And what a record! From opener “Precious” to closer Mystery Achievement, there isn’t a skip in the lot.

So how about you? Found any good records lately? Have any thoughts on the ones I picked up? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Bloomington Indiana: On this day in 1954, a baby was born to an ophthalmologist and teacher.

Almost from the word go, the child showed an interest in art-especially music & the radio. He was also hyper. Like, really hyper — enough so that his parents referred to it as “monkey hour,” and sent him to a psychiatrist for several years.

After a brief stay in Massachusetts, the family settled in Pasadena, Ca. Now in his late teens, the boy began singing in a band called the Red Ball Jets.

Another band named Mammoth featuring brothers on guitar and drums would occasionally rent the band’s PA system. Through a few twists and turns, the singer joined the brother’s band, they changed the name, and the rest is history.

The brothers? Eddie & Alex Van Halen.

The singer? David Lee Roth


“It’s easy to go somewhere and win a championship with somebody else … this is the hard way to do it and we did it.”  
Giannis Antetokounmpo 

A huge part of the larger discourse of late has been the rise of social media, and the influence it has on the populace. There is no shortage of analysis and/or hot takes on the massive scale of Facebook (or the calls to #DeleteFacebook), the often arbitrary moderation of Twitter, and whateverthehell Parler was.

The latter was effectively erased from existence, but not before a lot of people made sure we all knew they thought their freedom of speech was being infringed on.

And of course, since nature abhors a vacuum, now we have Gettr. So that’s fun.

We also have Facebook back in the news again (do they ever really leave?), after President Biden was quoted as saying “they’re killing people.”

Are they? Maybe, maybe not. Obviously, no one from Menlo Park is pulling a literal trigger, but it’s hard to ignore the platform’s reach, and how well it works as an accelerator for misinformation. One can fairly easily draw a line between bad info on social media, resistance to receiving vaccines, and an increase in COVID-related deaths. 

And when just 12 people are responsible for the majority of bad info? That’s a very real problem we need to (collectively) address.

Regardless of where you stand on Facebook (or Parler’s extinction), I hope we can all agree on 2 truths:

1. Civics needs to make a return to our school’s curriculum, post haste. Critical Thinking too.

2. For all intents and purposes, social media IStoday’s Town Square. It’s where we go to share ideas, get on our (cyber) soapbox, and debate. The discourse isn’t happening down the street- it’s on your screen.

The First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies, and everyone has to consent to a platform’s Terms of Service as a condition of participation. The easy answer here is to point to that, and say “if you don’t like it, leave.” I know, I’ve done it. But maybe the better solution is to model Terms of Service after the First Amendment.

It’s pretty clear that online is where people are now assembling, and as broad as it is, 1A still has defined guardrails. I don’t think you could legislate (read: force) companies to do this, but it’s certainly a model worth looking into going forward, even if it’s hard—especially if it means saving lives. 

Don’t @ me*.

*Actually, you should totally @ me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Flying over Key West in early 2020. Photo by me.

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.” 

— Marie Curie 

When I was a kid, my dad traveled often for business. He’d come home with the usual souvenirs he probably grabbed at the airport (my dresser was full of “Visit New Hampshire” type shirts) and would tell us about the cool places he had visited in between appointments. 

If we were lucky, there’d be a trip to the Fotomat, and in a few days, we could look at some grainy pictures of wherever he’d been. But no matter where he went, when pressed for a favorite part of the trip, he’d always give the same answer: the flight. 

It was the one place no one could reach him. It gave him time to read, think, whatever. Sometimes he’d spend the entire flight looking out the window and daydreaming, with only his thoughts and imagination keeping him company.

We like being distracted. Since the earliest days of aviation, airlines have been happy to help us with that. Food, playing cards, In-Flight Entertainment; the list goes on. 

If you’re of a certain (ahem) age, you may remember the introduction of the Airphone on airplanes. They were bulky, cost a fortune, and were mainly used to tell people… you were calling them from an airplane. Movies were played on monitors that dropped down from the ceiling.

Today there are screens at every seat and 100’s of hours of content to pass the time. The advance in technology is nothing short of amazing, really. Airphones are long gone, but who needs that when you can iMessage everyone?

Put another way, you can spend an entire trip not ever thinking about the miracle of flight, or having to notice the view unfolding 30, 000 ft. below you. You can be as busy in the air as you are on the ground. Or not.

Yesterday I took my first post-pandemic flight. I had all kinds of plans to get things done; a pile of things to read, a decent-sized to-do list, phone stuffed with podcasts, etc. 

About 15 minutes in, I decided not to do any of it.

Instead, I read a little, looked out the window, and let my mind wander. 

It’s still the best IFE there is.

02. July.2021

When I first moved to the Midwest I found an apartment that had one of those wall-mounted heater/AC units you see in hotels. I thought I was getting a steal. Growing up in Portland, a lot of people didn’t have A/C. It rarely really gotthat hot, so it never occurred to me that this was standard issue in other parts of the country. 

In her latest edition of The Profile, Polina Marinova Pompliano is writing from the road. She talks about how her grandfather marvels at things most of us never notice like the way tile is laid out in the buildings they visit. 

It’s an engrossing story, with an expected arc about how travel changes us, realigns our priorities, etc. But she really got my attention when discussing perceptions and how traveling shatters any illusion of what normal is.

Here she is talking about travel expert Rick Steves: 

“Steves once said that people who don’t travel often think their way of life is the norm (ie: Americans say the British drive on the “wrong” side of the road. No, they just drive on the other side of the road). “

This past week, Oregonians (at the west coast in general) had their illusion of “normal” shattered when temps soared over 110. Those are numbers seen in other places. In Phoenix…in Death Valley…in Riyadh.

Temps like that test the limits of human endurance anywhere. But in a place whose average temps are 40 degrees cooler? Where for many people having A/C really means an underpowered window unit and an intricate maze of box fans? 

Not Great, Bob. Another all-too-honest update on… | by Matt Anderson |  Struck | Medium

Next week, I’ll return home to Oregon for the first time in over 3 years. I won’t be there long—it’s never enough, really— but it’ll be good to see my family, Mt. Hood, and smell the Pacific Northwest air. 

I’ll be staying with mom, a proud owner of one of these Rube Goldberg HVAC contraptions. So far, she says she’s managed. I hope so. 

I also hope this isn’t a new normal for them.

On to the good stuff:

  1. In the writing world, “killing your darlings” is often dished out as advice. Austin Kleon proposes relocating them instead. 
  2. A good read: Jonathan Malesic on the rise of Substack, and what it may/may not mean for journalism going forward.
  3. Jon Gruber weighs in on the plea from Apple workers to continue working remotely. Gruber’s take is hot enough to bathe in, but in a lot of ways, I think he’s on the right track here. To be clear, there is definitely merit in the idea of working remotely. I’m also mindful that living in Silicon Valley doesn’t come cheap or without a long commute. At the same time, these sorts of employee petitions reek of entitlement. As Gruber notes, Apple’s new “three days on site” policy wasn’t a request for comments — it was a decision.” I’m open to the idea that mine is a generational reaction, and one from someone whose job has to be done in person. I just think a little intellectual honesty would’ve gone a long way here. I’d love to hear where you fall on this
  4. A good tweet:Colleen @Coll3enGmy mom and I were driving and I decided to call my grandma and my grandma was like “hey sweetie I can’t talk right now, your mom’s at my door” and i was like “grandma I’m driving with my mom right now” and my grandma just said “oh darn you caught me, I just don’t want to talk”June 26th 202112,469 Retweets215,489 Likes
  5. Here’s a YouTube clip of someone literally doing nothing for 2 hours. It has over 5 million views as of this writing. I’m not sure what to do with that.
  6. Ear Candy: Paul Westerberg’s Eventually
  7. This is why we can’t have nice things: TSA resumes self-defense classes amidst a surge of in-flight incidents
  8. This week, United Airlines announced amassive order for 270 new planes. It also plans to hire 25000 people over the next few years.
  1. Another good tweet (or thread) from a first-time watcher of Ted Lasso. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but it’s an easy series to fall in love with. Season 2 kicks off on July 23rd.
  2. RIP Frank Bonner. The man who brought WKRP’s Herb Tarlek to life left us earlier this month. His nonstop schmoozing of the “big guy,” running paycheck pools, or trying to win the hearts of Bailey and Jennifer might’ve made you cringe (he’d definitely get canceled today). But underneath that veneer of sleaze was a solid teammate. Tarlek always struck me as the kinda guy that might’ve tried to get you to take the bad square in an office pool, but would also lend you a (very loud) coat without being asked. The world’s a better place with people like that in it.

Thanks for being here,


What caught your attention this week? Got a rant or rave? Let me know in the comments or send me an email. I read all the responses. You can also read more of my work on Medium, and connect with me on Twitter.

04. June.2021

Several orders of magnitude more than what you’d need

Photo of Michigan's Porcupine Mountains.

Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains. Photo by author.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

— Mary Anne Radmacher 

I assure you I’m not turning this into a “tales from the office” sort of newsletter. But if you’ll indulge me in one more story from my workplace, I want to share the story of my friend Richard Hulsizer. 

The airlines were a second career for Richard. He joined us after having just retired from the United States Post Office. He and his husband dreamt of seeing the world; joining us at (then) Northwest was their way to do it. 

If you’ve ever been a manager/supervisor/whatever you learn to quickly assess whether or not someone will be a good fit on your team. In a line station like mine, those good and bad qualities can be magnified— in case of conflict, there’s simply nowhere else to go.

He fit right in from the start and was the kind of person you are happy to see show up on your gate. Hardworking, sure, but also friendly, and frankly funny as hell. I should also note that he was a great baker and would bring cookies in often. 

I should also note that I ate more than my share. 

I’d like to have ended this story with another retirement party, replete with balloons, cake, and hugs. This isn’t that story, though. For Richard, there was no second retirement or years spent on exploring the Greek Isles. Instead, I am writing this on the 11th anniversary of his death due to a workplace accident. This was not a “good death” (whateverthehell that means), and it wasn’t quick, either. 

I mention this to share a few points:

First, every action has a consequence. Sometimes they’re good, and sometimes not, but nothing happens in a vacuum. 

Next, it’s easy to become complacent at work, and at home. Many of you may be going back to the office for the first time in a while. Even if you’ve been going in through the whole pandemic, please—if even just for today— make a concerted effort to move through your shift with intention. That extra second or two could make all the difference. 

Third; dreams deferred are dreams unrealized. People re-prioritizing their life in the wake of COVID is a popular topic these days, and there are no shortage of think pieces and/or hot takes plastered all over the ‘net. It’s easy to let real life get in the way—I’m as guilty of it as anyone— but no one’s promised tomorrow. 

Also: If someone in your office brings cookies in, make sure to thank them, even if you don’t eat them.