They’re An American Band: I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One at 25

Yo La Tengo’s classic eighth LP found the Hoboken trio taking further strides towards creating its own pop style

Yo La Tengo 1997 (Image: Matador Records)

Yo La Tengo have never been an easy band to characterize.

While their basic instinct seem to steer them towards pure pop, they’ve also made a habit of frequently veering towards unexpected realms, be it electronica, bossa-nova or krautrock, all without regard to the respect for any particular parameters. Nevertheless, their giddier inclinations always seemed to be at the core of their primary purpose. 

Yo La Tengo I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, Matador Records 1997

An able follow-up to its ground-breaking  predecessor, Electra-O-Pura, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One reaffirmed the band’s penchant for taking a progressive posture, although in that regard, there was little that was elusive about the majority of its 16 songs. As evidence of that fact, it was not only accorded glowing reviews and hailed as a masterpiece for its pursuit of otherwise unexpected musical possibilities, but it also became the first Yo La Tengo album to make a dent on the Billboard charts. Likewise, any number of prestigious publications listed as one of the best albums of the entire ‘90s, a distinction it so decidedly deserved.

As always, wit and whimsy had a lot to do with maintaining that sanctified status

I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One alternate cassette art (Image: Etsy)

That said, it’s a challenging and somewhat bewildering effort in many regards. The album title itself was borrowed from the name of an otherwise obscure film. The insert card that appeared in the original release advertised albums by imaginary artists (“Condo Fucks,” “Unsanitary Napkins,” “Künstler” etc.) leading Yo La Tengo to actually release an album of covers credited to the the aforementioned Condo Fucks. 

I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One boasted a pair of covers of its own — a decidedly disquieting version of the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” and, weirder still, a gentle serenade titled “My Little Corner of the World,” originally recorded by the Florida orange juice maven herself, Anita Bryant. 

On the other hand, songs such as “Moby Octopad” and “Sugarcube” are firmly ingrained within the Yo La Tengo template. The unyielding rhythms that underscore the band’s wistful harmonies in the former provide an unlikely juxtaposition between the earthly and the ethereal. The latter finds the dizzying arrangements seemingly spinning out of control in the midst of a propulsive tempo. Other tracks — “Damage,” “One PM Again,” “Spec Bebop,” and “The Lie and How We Told It”  boast an otherworldly ambiance that underscores the cosmic sheen draping the album overall. 

 

VIDEO: Yo La Tengo “Sugarcube”

So, too, there’s a decided air of melancholia pervading the proceedings as well. The driving “Stockholm Syndrome” and” the darker designs of “Autumn Sweater” offer evocative examples. At times, the music comes across as decidedly askew, even when the pacing attempts to maintain some sort of balance and coherence.

Overall, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One is a decidedly compelling effort, one that finds the band intent on elevating their sound to a higher plain. Even in the midst of chaos, the melodies can be both wistful and reassuring. The low-cast ambiance and shimmering glow found in “Shadows,” the cheery charms of “Center of Gravity” and the hazy instrumental “Green Arrow” provide a welcome respite.

Ultimately then, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One is as pulsating and purposeful as its title implies. 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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