Imagine the platonic ideal of the art making practice and a vision of Yo La Tengo materializes swiftly. Tally up 36 years under the belt of consummate music making (28 with the current lineup), Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan and James McNew outdo just about any contender on the axes of longevity, quality, and consistency. It’s no shock that somewhere along their career, along with their encyclopedic music knowledge and pop-culture acumen, the trio found a dedication to the works of Robert Rauschenberg whose M.O. was to bridge the worlds of art and ordinary life.
Rauschenberg’s fingerprints are all over Electr-o-pura, and not just because their nine minute toppler “Blue Line Swinger” borrows its name from one of the artist’s famed lithographs. The Georgia-designed album sleeve pays homage to his style, and to his aforementioned ideals, bringing a visual representation of the themes explored within to the consumer’s eyes. A wall of white label LPs catty corner paste-ups of the New Jersey and New York state flags, repping the three members’ two homes across the river, next to a sideways image of J. Edgar Hoover meeting the Lone Ranger, which fulfills a kind of pop-culture inside baseball checkmark. Adopted while on a visit to the Museum of Beverage Containers, the record’s name comes from a defunct soda brand, another nod to the all-seeing cultural hive mind of the band.
For obsessives like Yo La Tengo (and ostensibly, you and me), art — films to watch, paintings to observe, records to hear, references to collect — is just as much a part of life as anything else. It only makes sense that The Beatles, The Stones and Eleanor Bron inhabit the song’s spaces in the same right as Richie Vey or Pablo and Andrea or even the “you” being addressed. Meanwhile, the band’s instrumentation elevates the doldrums, the conflicts, the regular going-ons of the everyday to something cinematic. Backing ba-ba-ba’s and woo-woo’s add romantic color behind leading melody lines. The dirge-y organ ribboning through “The Hour Grows Late” evokes a waning sunset and a lump in your throat. An itch of restlessness seeps in from a blanket of Fender fuzz on “(Straight Down to the) Bitter End.”
With Electr-o-pura, the band relates art to life and ennobles life to art, becoming auteurs of the everyman. 25 years of albums and cover songs and marathon tour routes later, James, Ira and Georgia still follow the same framework, only having deepened their pool of influences and widened their mastery of genre. The resulting catalogue lends an ever-extending strata of narratives, of references, of soundtracks to view ourselves through. What more can music obsessives like us ask for?