Sound — 5
With a career and discography that spans about three decades, Yo La Tengo have established themselves as a household name in indie rock a while ago. At this point, the band's most pressing concern has been finding ways to keep things fresh, which has made the latter-era discography of the band the most interesting yet. After the ambivalent reception to their 2003 album, "Summer Sun," Yo La Tengo picked things back up triumphantly with the highly-varied sound of 2006's "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass," and continued to push expectations forward with the rich string and horn arrangements featured in 2009's "Popular Songs." 2012's "Fade" would take those recent advancements in sound and bring them back to the home rage of Yo La Tengo's noisy, psychedelic-tinged indie rock style, resulting in "Fade" being the highest charting album for the band thus far.
Now on their fourteenth album, "Stuff Like That There," Yo La Tengo decide to revisit the exclusive indie folk sound that they first showcased in their 1990 album, "Fakebook." Being a sort-of sequel to that album, "Stuff Like That There" is comprised of covers, reduxes of previously-released Yo La Tengo songs, and a few originals. But whereas "Fakebook" added further instrumentation to the conventional folk backbones of songs to provide more variance in sound (like the fiddle sections in "The One to Cry," the '80s-era alt rock guitar lead in "Barnaby, Hardly Working," the classic soul vocal harmonies in "Emulsified," or even the basic tambourine and shaker layers used to spice up the percussion), "Stuff Like That There" commits to the simply-arranged, simple-progressing indie folk minimalism for worse.
Only a few songs hold characteristics that distinguish them enough in the album - the triplet-rhythmed fingerpicking arpeggios in "Awhileaway," the peppy vocal delivery in "Somebody's in Love," or the acoustic/electric guitars taking turns in the solo of the Great Plains cover "Before We Stopped to Think." But whether it's the acoustic chord rhythms in "Friday I'm in Love," "Automatic Doom" and "Somebody's in Love" sounding identical, the ride-cymbal drumbeats being the same throughout the album (another aspect "Fakebook" managed to vary with), or the gentle guitar solos in "Rickety," "All Your Secrets" and "Awhileaway" sounding indiscernible from one another, the front-to-back experience of "Stuff Like That There" is more along the lines of a homogenous slog rather than a hearty serving of stark indie folk.
Lyrics — 7
With the majority of songs on "Stuff Like That There" being covers of other bands or renditions of earlier Yo La Tengo material, the album isn't really concerned with bringing forth a sizable batch of new lyrics. Only three songs on the album wield new lyrics - "Rickety," "Awhileaway," and "Somebody's in Love" - and though "Somebody's in Love" merely drums up a simple fictional love triangle (with the same alliterative J names as Nadia Ali's song of the same topic, "Triangle," in an odd fit of coincidence), "Rickety" and "Awhileaway" make for good examples of frontman Ira Kaplan's positive lyrical style of "keep on keeping on" messages: the former highlighting the "glass-half-____" dualism of reality ("Nothing's gone, and nothing lasts / The door's ajar, but closing fast / Through it all, we're on our feet but rickety"), and the latter reveling in the solace of companionship to stave off the negative elements of life ("Things get better sometimes / But whether or not it takes forever / It's in sight when we're together").
Overall Impression — 5
After the last few albums of Yo La Tengo branching out their sound, the choice to parlay into the gentle folk minimalism for their latest album looks good on paper, especially in the interest of taking a freshening step away from their expected style and towards the organic folksiness that they were previously lauded for in "Fakebook." But in its actual practice, "Stuff Like That There" has a narrower focus on its folk style, making this second stint of indie folk much more monotonous, and much less intriguing and imaginative, than the band's folk side heard in "Fakebook."