Musical medicine to calm the mind
In times as difficult as these, even just a moment of reprieve from the anxiety and ever-changing nature of modern life can be pure serenity. Yo La Tengo’s newest EP Sleepless Nights offers that much needed moment of reflective bless. This six-song EP brings a new single to the table, as well as a few beautiful stripped-down favorites from the ’40s, ’60s and ’70s.
Yo La Tengo currently consists of core members Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and, current bass player James McNew. Sleepless Nights follows the band’s most recent release from July of this year, We Have Amnesia Sometimes. This EP began as a part of a limited edition LP to be provided at Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara’s LACMA art exhibit in Los Angeles. Being a big fan of Yo La Tengo, Yoshitomo was given the opportunity to select the songs on Sleepless Night as well as provide the stunning art for the album artwork.
While five of the six songs on this record consist of covers, the band did include one new single titled “Bleeding.” This new single is a stunning blend of airy instruments and floating vocals. Yo La Tengo offers a feeling of safety in which one can catch their breath, and feel grounded within the music of the moment. As the song comes to a close, the band interrupts the “calm waters” they created and explored earlier in the song, almost shaking one back to their reality before getting too lost.
The other covers listed in this EP are focused on classic Americana folk songs by The Delmore Brothers, The Byrds, Ronnie Lane, Flying Machine and Bob Dylan. Each song is stripped down to its basics, creating earthy acoustic renditions with additions of twangy country style electric guitar. Each showcases the band’s personal sound, while holding true to the feeling of the originals.
A highlight of the album is their cover of the Bob Dylan 1965 song “It Takes a Lot to Laugh.” Though the cover still has the Americana feel of Dylan’s best, Yo La Tengo infuses their own flavor, slowing down the song and adding an air of eeriness. The band’s decision to lose the drums from the original song results in a cover that remains simplistic, but still mesmerizes the mind. Gone are the folk-rock tones for which Dylan is so revered, and here to replace them is the calming sound of Yo La Tengo.
A cover of the ’40s song “Blues Stay Away” by The Delmore Brothers kicks off the EP. The original is a relatively standard folk-blues song, fueled by a crying harmonica. It’s the perfect soundtrack for running away on the local freight train. Yo La Tengo takes this song to a completely different place, ditching the harmonica and creating a lullaby version of this beautiful song. With perfect and creamy harmonized vocals on a bare-bones cover with added train horn noises, it keeps the old-timey tone, but creates a new warmth that alleviates some of the heartbreak of the blues.
Their take on Ronnie Lane’s 1974 song “Roll On Babe” is both beautiful and uplifting. Just like what was done for The Delmore Brothers cover, some of the more bluesy and country instruments were left behind while slowing down the song a bit, placing this cover comfortably in Yo La Tengo’s comfort zone.
Yo La Tengo’s newest EP Sleepless Nights breathes new life into a selection of classic Americana songs. This album is perfect for a quiet moment, and allows the soul to cleanse itself of all unwanted stressors. The band successfully strips these songs down to their rawest and purest form. Sleepless Nights is the perfect catalyst for a moment of relaxation, appreciation and reflection.