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

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.

5 Things I’m Into This week #13

My weekly series is now a teenager. Who’d have thought?!

Here are 5 things of value I wanted to share with you this week:

  1. There’s always an aviation angle, and here is an awesome board game an airline employee has created. It’s on a crowdsourcing site right now. Definitely check it out!
  2. My playlist this past week. Of course, there’s Daft Punk on it.
  3. Scientists are using drones to take beautiful but alarming photos of the Arctic getting greener.
  4. Coffee is pretty much the last vice I have. Here’s some great news about java and heart health.
  5. Radio Garden is an amazing website/app that lets you spin the globe and listen to radio stations the world over. You can download the app at the Apple Store. Make sure to set aside some time when you check it out. It’s a deep/wonderful rabbit hole.

What caught your attention this week? Let me know in the comments!

5 Things I’m Into This Week #11

We’re in a brutal cold snap here in the upper Midwest, but the sun is out and visibility is clear-and-a-million. It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess.

Here are 5 things that grabbed my attention this past week. Wherever this finds you, I hope you’re safe and warm… Or that it’s at least sunny. 

  1. Seth Godin on why we should aim for more than “just doing our job.” 
  2. This week’s playlist. A bit of Sonic Hygge, if you will. 
  3. Speaking of music, this past week the world celebrated “International Clash Day,” honoring the seminal band. Rob Janicke breaks down what it is and why it matters.
  4. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines announced that they will extended their blocking of the all middle seats through he end of April 2021. This leaves them as the last American carrier to do so. It’s been well received by fliers — who wouldn’t want an empty seat next to them? — but will that make for any kind of durable loyalty long term?
  5. EYE CANDY: James Carrolla is back, and Instagram is better for it. This was my favorite picture this past week.

What caught your eye this past week? Let me know! I read every response.

Kevin — 

P.S. Top writers Tim Denning and Todd Brison have opened their Medium Bad-Assery course. Whether you want to start writing, or just get better, this is the place to go. 
I was in the initial class, and it improved my academic/business/social writing. You also get to be part of an amazing community of writers. 
Registration ends soon, but there’s still time to join! 

NOTE: This isn’t an affiliate link; I just got a ton of value out of the course and think you will too.

5 Things I’m Into #10

Hi everyone—

February is always a kind of interstitial space for me. In my mind fall was a lifetime ago, and spring’s just ahead. Usually, I’m coming off a week of chasing the sun, which lets me frame the rest of winter as a downhill sprint. This year, we stayed home, and so everything feels just a little…off. The world is still moving as best it can; I just need to get back in sync with it.

I also spent a good deal of time helping my son comparison shop for a utility trailer. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing, but here we are. He runs a lawn care/snow removal company and is ready to scale up. And he’s doing the old fashioned way. No hacks, or other shortcuts; just consistent customer service, and sweat equity. I’m clearly biased, but I’m proud of him.

With my part of the world moving full speed into the depths of winter (and a week straight of sub-zero temps), most of us will be hunkering down. It’ll be his time to shine.

It’s all perspective, I guess.

Grab yourself some coffee or tea, and let’s get on to the good stuff:

  1. Here are my top 5 songs of the past week. It’s an eclectic mix this week, but that’s a reflection of where I was at.
  2. Making friends can be hard enough as an adult- COVID has just made it worse. This article from David Cain lays out the one small step you can take to change that.
  3. As we ramp up vaccinations, cracks in the system are being laid bare. Distribution is consistently inconsistent and supply is not matching demand. At all.For a logistics nerd like me, it’s vexing. Every nation should be treating this as a wartime effort. We have the people and resources. All that’s missing is the will.I’m encouraged by early signals from the Biden administration, but we’ve got a long way to go. This Twitter thread from David Freiberg is the blueprint I believe gets us the furthest the fastest.
  4. As we make progress on COVID itself, we need to recognize the grief/loss we have all felt on whatever level it may be. That’s different for everyone of course. But reflection, resolve,  and some sort of resolution are critical.

    Even just taking a minute to take stock of things will do wonders.
  5. We all have a personal philosophy. Our ideal for living. Here’s what Thelonious Monk had to say.My favorite: “You got to dig it to dig it, you dig?”
    Sage advice.

Onward up the mountain,

P.S. I would love to hear from you! Rants, raves, whatever’s on your mind. 

5 Things I’m Into this Week #9

While all of us were distracted with “GameStock,” new variants of COVID, and new levels GOP bat-shittery, the new administration was busy getting down to business.

Biden spent most of his first days in office, well, actually, working. He ended the so-called “Muslim ban,” reframed the battle against COVID as a “wartime effort” (finally!), and rejoined the World Health Organization.

Actual, tangible progress. Who’d have thought?

Apparently, not the press. They seemed to have missed the message that grievance culture and performative outrage are out. We’re a tired, angry nation. We don’t need any more gas thrown on that fire. While we’re at it, can someone please tell the NYT we don’t need anymore think pieces on the “aggrieved Trump voter?” It’s over.

We’re back to focusing on what doesn’t matter with the President (tan suit, anyone?). The recent pearl-clutching over Biden’s watch or his bike is annoying but in a small way also kind of a relief.

Given a choice, I’d much rather be debating the security levels of a Peleton than watching a sitting president try to overthrow our entire democracy.

From the always excellent Press Run newsletter:

“The gotcha formula is strange, because wealthy politicians who advocate for the poor should be celebrated, not questioned. By definition, they’re not looking out for themselves, or their one percent tax bracket. Instead, they’re using their positions in power to try to advance an agenda of justice and lifting people up.”

We’re addicted to outrage, and the Fourth Estate is addicted to supplying it, but focusing on “boring” things like policy updates and initiatives would do us all a world of good. No more “both sides-ism,” no more pandering for clicks/eyeballs. Just a speedball of actual information and retelling of facts as they’ve occurred.

We may be addicted to outrage, but this is the best kind of withdrawal.

On to the good stuff:

Ear Candy: I was supposed to be on vacation this week. Actually, I am on vacation, we just didn’t go anywhere. That’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Getting up when it’s light and going to bed when it’s dark has been a nice change from my normal schedule. That said, I really missed chasing the sun this year. So I did the next best thing and made a playlist of tracks that remind me of the previous trips we’ve taken, or just help me escape.

Speaking of travel: Last week, I linked to an article about travelers gaming the system. The goal is to essentially fly for free every time. Some of the methods simply take advantage of loopholes in the system (kinda like Gamestop), and some are sketchy at best. This week, American Airlines dropped the hammer on these shenanigans. I can’t link to it directly, but if you go here and scroll down to “Latest Communications,” you’ll find this update:

Translation: “We’re done tolerating this nonsense.”

(H/T to the Cranky Flier blog for sharing this story)

While I’m not yet back in the air, I find still watching shorts about other corners of the globe fascinating. Tik Tok might have had its Sea Shanty thing going, but this short film about actual shanties in England’s PlotLand’s is amazing.

Books: I recently finished “The Creative’s Curse” by Todd Brison, and Essential by The Minimalists (not affiliate links). I cannot recommend these enough. If you are in any way creative, Brison’s book is a must-read. If you are looking to clear out the white noise in your life, pick up Essential.

Both have me feeling a little better about the world, and the path I’m on.

In the meantime, here’s a quick read using packing for a trip as a metaphor for the baggage we carry around in our lives. The takeaway: Don’t overpack.

Eye Candy: I might not be able to use my passport, but I can be a tourist in my own town. Sometimes from the comfort of my own couch. This Instagram Account never fails to make my part of the world seem like a Wonderland. Maybe ‘cause it is.

Onward up the mountain,