"I see a beach... the waves pounding against the shore. A beautiful girl, her heart beating against her breast. I see a tall, handsome man. Now I see it! Now I see it! I can hear the roar of the Ocean. And finally I can hear the Music of love. I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE."
Do me a favor. Take the warmest, most comfortable time of your life. Think of blankets and fireplaces. Think of lovers' arms. Think of days, rainy or sunny. Think of something safe and warm and always always comforting. Anything can happen in this perfect little time: sex, love, self-enlightenment, a better understanding of the large and frantic universe.

Give this hypothetical time a soundtrack, and I will tell you right now that it will be Yo La Tengo's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. This is such a warm, inviting, beautiful album that it has continued to grow on me since its release in 1997. There are a lot of things going on here: slow wandering pieces with crickets practically overpowering the instruments, tight three minute pop songs infused with overdriven guitar and chaotic drum beats, long spacey jives that just don't know when to quit, and even a Beach Boys cover. This album was my introduction to the world of indie rock, and I couldn't have asked for a better tour guide to this strange and mystical place than Yo La Tengo. We run the gamut of a lot of mid-90s indie trends here, and it all works so perfectly.

This record could break your heart. This record might make you dance. This could be your rainy-day-hide-under-the-covers album, or your drive-around-in-the-sun-with-the-top-down album. These are songs of love and pain and joy and betrayal. You will find yourself caught in the solid groove of McNew's wandering bass line in Moby Octopad, breaking bottles over the frenzy of Sugarcube, lost in the dark woods of Green Arrow. You want your strum? Stockholm Syndrome's got it in spades. You want your sulk? Damage will break you and build you just to break you again.

It is slightly amazing that Yo La Tengo has created a quintessential rock album here without an unceasing cavalcade of guest artists. Only two outside musicians make an appearance here: Manassas' Al Perkins playing steel guitar on Moby Octopad and One PM Again, and Lambchop's Jonathan Marx playing trumpet on Shadows. Somehow the band generates a huge sound with just their core group: Ira Kaplan on guitar and vocals, his wife Georgia Hubley on drums and vocals, and their (since 1993's Painless) bassist James McNew. The result is a very intimate, warm sound that gets inside your head and makes you its slave.

Yo La Tengo has always had an -- and I hesitate to use this term, lest it conjure images of James Taylor or Huey Lewis -- adult approach to songwriting. This is mature music, created by three people who have enough honest love for rock to carry a tune and go with it, make it work. There are only hints now of their most obvious consistent influence, The Velvet Underground. By I Can Hear The Heart..., YLT has developed their own sound enough to not rely on those progenitors of haze rock to craft a tune. As a result, playful numbers such as Center of Gravity and the very VU-esque cover of Little Honda don't seem out of place alongside the absolutely heartbreaking and straightforward Autumn Sweater. Sure, Spec Bebop is a fairly self-indulgent romp, a ten-minute long piece that has the strange quality of being great to give a concentrated listen, but, as background music, is thoroughly invasive; but the entire album really is just an honest slice of rock and roll, a piece of Yo La Tengo's collective heart pressed to plastic and made available for public consumption. It even has a heart right there on the disc! Look!

I think the essence of this record can really be caught in one song in particular. If everything else bores you or turns you off for some reason (and I realize that, if this is the case, this may be a lost cause), forward through to We're an American Band. This is not a Grand Funk cover. I have no idea who did the original version, but that doesn't matter right now. What we've got here is six minutes and twenty one seconds of lusciousness that sums up the entire record. A slow, simple bass and drum groove that introduces a heavily distorted but incredibly tuneful guitar. A duet between husband-and-wife Ira and Georgia. Lyrics sung painfully slow. Slice of life, everyday occurances. This is a low that is building and building, phrase by phrase. The lyrics are just candy coating: this is American life, of sorts, but not necessary. These could be different words detailing an entirely different life. What's important here is what comes after the lyrics. McNew and Kaplan break into what seems to be entirely different songs simultaneously, McNew keeping it steady, Kaplan letting his axe howl a little. And it builds and it builds, bass on a solid foundation, drums picking up speed and volume, Kaplan going absolutely apeshit on his guitar. Remember: there are three people total on this song, and their sound is big enough to fill a body. They are in the middle of a highly destructive rock jive that somehow, through that special brand of Yo La Tengo magic, ends up being warm, wholesome, gorgeous.

Yes yes, I could throw the hackneyed term "modern classic" at you, but I'd rather you just do whatever is in your power to hear this album. I've forgotten or just plain moved past a lot of albums I picked up in the late nineties, but this is one that has stuck with me. This is one you'll keep coming back to. Just like home.

    Track List:
  1. Return to Hot Chicken
  2. Moby Octopad
  3. Sugarcube
  4. Damage
  5. Deeper Into Movies
  6. Shadows
  7. Stockholm Syndrome
  8. Autumn Sweater
  9. Little Honda
  10. Green Arrow
  11. One PM Again
  12. The Lie and How We Told It
  13. Center of Gravity
  14. Spec Bebop
  15. We're an American Band
  16. My Little Corner of the World
Released in 1997 on Matador Records. Produced by Roger Moutenot, recorded at House of David in Nashville, mixed at Big House and Magic Shop in New York City. All songs by Yo La Tengo, published by Roshashauna Music / Excellent Classical Songs (BMI) except Little Honda, written by Wilson/Love, published by Irving Music, Inc. (BMI), and My Little Corner of the World, written by Hillard/Pockriss, published by Emily Music Corp. / Better Half Music Co. (ASCAP). Moby Octopad embodies portions of Bird Bath, written by Burt Bacharach, published by EMI U Catalog, Inc. (ASCAP).

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