Indie rock's most enduring institution has reaped more praise than it can handle: With a collective fear of striking a false note that borders on the paranoid, and an equivalently intense aesthetic curiosity, the trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew practically defines the word "credibility." At least 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out was notable for settling into a more ambient mode, jettisoning the loud guitar and feedback-bruised sugar pop that had burst from earlier albums. But what's left to say about follow-up Summer Sun, which burrows deeper into the same niche? It's good. Big surprise.
The bossa nova beats are more prevalent; likewise the Stereolab-ish synth texturing. The instrumentation is broader. But these are minor points, ultimately; ultimately, the change here is one of tone. And Then Nothing... was quiet in the way a heated conversation that has to be whispered is quiet--the album guarded the vehemence of its emotion jealously, and songs seemed to emerge from the undertow of pregnant pauses. The album was anxious: anxiously joyous, anxiously sad, anxiously anxious.
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Summer Sun, in contrast, is quiet in the way some conversations are just...quiet. Because they are intimate; because voices don't need to be raised. Tracks like "Tiny Birds" and "Season of the Shark" and Georgia's cover of Big Star's "Take Care," which closes the record on a distinctly melancholy note, are as dark as anything Yo La Tengo has ever written. This album is no "happier" than the last, but it is more relaxed: The band has settled into its patois of mellow songwriting, allowing the feeling to breathe. Indeed, "Moonrock Mambo" and "Let's Be Still" are downright breezy, a mood Yo La Tengo hasn't conquered until now. But it's no surprise they've mastered it.