“Stupid Things” – Yo La Tengo
Now then, everything I just said about elusive songwriting? Um, maybe never mind. Yo La Tengo is back in town and they are long-reigning masters of elusive pop songs. They may have partially invented the genre. The blurry singing, the fuzzy background, the vehement guitars, the incomprehensible lyrics? It’s all here. And damn if it isn’t pretty lovable somehow.
There’s no particular point in trying to parse this song; better to let it wash over you, on repeat, the way the droning guitar washes over the noodling guitar in the introduction. It’s jarring at first but it works. Over time you may register how the fleeting dissonances and the modest melodious moments congeal into one hypnotic whole. Ira Kaplan whispers his way around a tune that does its best to hide its moment of gratifying resolution. While the guitars seem often to be playing in another song altogether, it’s their long, lyric-free interlude—beginning around 3:18—that to me anchors the song, and renders its mysteries mysteriously meaningful. This episode starts as two plicky, plunking guitars soloing against each other, but at around 3:34 the lower of the two begins an anvil-like repetition of one chord, with one dissonant hiccup at 3:49. The solo guitar, at once meandering and forceful, all but stumbles into a truly satisfying resolution (4:05) and after that, the song just makes sense. The chorus melody had itself given us a taste of resolution back when first heard (1:54) but note how much richer it seems the second time (4:37), reinforced by the synthesizers that join the song for the home stretch.
“Stupid Things” is from the new Yo La Tengo album, Fade, which was released this month on Matador Records. This is their 13th studio album. MP3 via Epitonic. For those keeping score at home, Yo La Tengo has been featured on Fingertips four previous times, most recently in July ’09.