1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One is an intimidating prospect. 16 tracks. 68 minutes. And, supposedly, the critics' favourite. It all starts out fine with Ira Kaplan's brief, mainly guitar led instrumental, the bafflingly-titled Return To Hot Chicken, which sadly ends before it really gets going. However from here things get difficult. Moby Octopad has a repetitive and somewhat annoying beat before the noisy and somewhat merit-free Sugarcube. At least from here, Damage represents an improvement in that it mainly drifts along aimlessly with occasional distant guitar rattle. The noisy, distorted Deeper Into Movies really works well in a ragged, Sonic Youth kind of way.
No Yo La Tengo album is complete without Georgia Hubley doing her spooked-out Mo Tucker routine, and this album doesn't disappoint. Shadows features Jonathan Marx on tastefully muted trumpet, and the album finishes with her cover of sixties tune My Little Corner of the World. But perhaps it's the amount of variety contained here that appeals so much to critics. We get a perfect Belle & Sebastian facsimile on Stockholm Syndrome (though Kaplan can't resist a short distorted guitar solo), yet minutes later they do a garage rock version of The Beach Boys' Little Honda which wouldn't shame the Jesus and Mary Chain, followed up by a sleepy alt-country instrumental Green Arrow, complete with chirping crickets!
The finer tracks are towards the end - the pedal steel-enhanced One PM Again has the breezy, relaxed quality of Lou Reed's Coney Island Baby, while The Lie and How We Told It has a classic 90s YLT sound, a standoffish, muted VU atmosphere and is the equal of anything off their last 3 or 4 albums and definitely the finest track here. Of course they don't stay put here, they follow this up with the cheesy bossa nova of Center of Gravity and the noisy endurance test of Spec Bebop, before recovering with the penultimate track, the shoegaze-y We're an American Band.
But overall, it's very much a hit and miss album, and if it was the first YLT album I heard I probably wouldn't be arsed checking any more out. The moral of the story. The critics, what the f**k do they know??