Artist: Yo La Tengo
Album: I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
Label: Matador Records
Release Date: April 22, 1997
Key Tracks: “Damage”, “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Sugarcube”, “Autumn Sweater”, “One PM Again”, “Center of Gravity”
Robert Christgau referred to Yo La Tengo’s eighth major studio effort as the band’s “career album” in his review for SPIN magazine.
I think that he is on to something.
Yo La Tengo is arguably one of the greatest rock bands of all time – when considering all possible facets of judging this. Ira Kaplan’s ability to write catchy songs, eerie songs, musically competent, emotionally true songs is above and beyond any songwriter of the past thirty years.
And this album caught me off guard.
Not because it is a lengthy compilation of pieces that edge onto each other in the true Abby Road tradition; not because “Autumn Sweater” is doubtlessly one of the most beautiful songs ever penned about avoidance; and not even because it features a cover of The Beach Boy’s “Little Honda”.
Because after hearing it, I not only enjoyed the tracks, I not only felt the need to listen to “Sugarcube” on repeat, but I felt like I needed it. I desperately needed Ira’s whispery voice in my ear and the album’s lonely sound running through my headphones. I have never desired to “get home and listen” to an album with such a fiery determination that fueled my fast-paced walks back to my dorm the beginning of my sophomore year at college.
For a great length of time, I somehow thought that “One PM Again” was actually titled “One AM Again” – a sentiment that any youngster is pretty familiar with. The realization that the tune was actually referring to the time period following lunch and before dinner somehow made the track even more beautiful.
I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One is a sort of a soundtrack – and I get the impression that it has been a soundtrack to many people in many different circumstances than the one I related to – but there it was, my soundtrack, my anthem.
Whatever you want from me
Whatever you want I’ll do
Try to squeeze a drop of blood
From a sugarcube
Not getting what you want and realizing you never will.
If any song more perfectly describes what it feels like to be an angsty young woman incapable of expressing her wants and needs, I have yet to stumble upon it.
I used to think about you all the time
I would think about you all the time
Now it just feels weird, cause there you are
“Damage” could be a lesson on obsession. What is love without a healthy dose of obsession – probably not healthy but fun to write about. But seriously, guys. Isn’t love just a little bit crazy? The combination of so many intense feelings, and isn’t fascination and the “feeling of being a kid again” a portion of what it feels like to be completely enamored with someone? What you make a person out to be versus the reality of being around them.
The album is full of statements about love. “Stockholm Syndrome”, one of the tracks composing what Christgau designated as the “perfect nine tracks”, is about infatuation.
Sympathizing with your captor. Seeing past their flaws, and dreading the moment you find yourself alone. The feeling of indulgence that threatens every interaction. Don’t want to chase them away.
No don’t warn me
I know it’s wrong
But I swear it won’t take long
And I know, you know
It makes me sigh
I do believe in love
This album is perfect. There is enough melancholy to last a lifetime in that gorgeous hour, eight minutes, and ten seconds.
I can hear the heart beating as one: two hearts, far apart, beating in unison. Physical bodies hundreds of miles away. But throbbing hearts pumping together, making a collective, rhythmic pounding that changes time and space until they are bone on bone, skin on skin.
See Yo La Tengo go to rock school: