Wipe Off The Dust
Although Yo La Tengo’s latest release, Extra Painful, is a reissue of an album they made twenty years ago (Painful), it still feels like a new batch of songs. It partly is – they’ve added a bonus disc with ten new tracks of demos, instrumentals and live recordings that act as little toys at the bottom of the cereal box. But Extra Painful seems new because the trio has made so much music that their earlier records can get lost in the stacks, collecting digital dust in the archives and libraries until they’re forgotten. Which is why classics like Painful need to be resurfaced for a reminder: not just of their long, impressive discography, but of their influence on three decades-worth of music making. Extra Painful is that smiling shuttle on its way back to 1993.
Flashback to 1992: Yo La Tengo has released five albums, their fifth, May I Sing with Me, being their first with bassist James McNew (who has, since then, been a permanent member, appearing on every album). Their sixth, Painful, comes a year later in ’93, showing a different side of their music – more shoegazy and slower, with distorted guitars spewing out chords.
But the new tracks on Extra Painful are like blueprints of these fuller, meatier cuts. Their demo of “Nowhere Near” feels naked, but that heartbeat-bassline is still there thumping along. The acoustic versions strip everything – the keys on “Big Day” and the chords that careen and spiral downwards on “From a Motel 6” are all gone – except the nectar: the vocals. Those familiar, whispery and melodic hums still find their ways onto these new versions. That doesn’t mean all these additions on Extra Painful are soft and barren: the demo of “Double Dare” sounds more aggressive than its final form; a more youthful and raw cut of the original number.
Extra Painful shows the more vulnerable side of Painful. It’s a collection of sketches of their final pieces, and unreleased demos that serve as could-have-been tracks; evidence of their musical taste and influence at the time. Thanks to this reissue, we can hear those extra lyrics and chords that lingered in the heads of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, those notes that revolved around main project – perhaps just as important as the original record itself.