On December 2, to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary, Matador Records will release Extra Painful, a deluxe reissue of the 1993 Yo La Tengo album Painful.
Painful was the band’s sixth album, and their first for Matador. I was already a loyal fan of Yo La Tengo when it came out, but it was with this album that they became one of my favorite bands. As good as their records were up until then, Yo La Tengo never really seemed like a real… band. Aside from the core duo of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan, there were always different people playing bass on their records, and they hadn’t yet settled into a signature sound. So when May I Sing With Me came out in 1992, I bought it, enjoyed it, and just assumed that James McNew was just the new guy playing bass on a YLT album. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that May I Sing With Me marked the beginning of Yo La Tengo, real band.
For Painful, the second album with McNew, the band enlisted producer/engineer Roger Moutenot, and the now-familiar Kaplan-Hubley-McNew trio sound emerged from the sessions, perfectly formed. Moutenot imbued the recordings with a warm, glowing quality, and captured the band’s strengths with real sensitivity, musical sympathy, and a general lack of fussiness. It’s no wonder the band worked with him for their next six albums. The guitars, bass, and “new wave organ” are usually overdriven or fuzzed-out, but never harsh, and the instruments don’t sound like they’re an inch away from the listener. When the guitar sound is clean, it’s dripping with delay and tremolo, yet doesn’t sound gimmicky; the effects serve the mood. They hadn’t yet started using the vintage rhythm box that would become ubiquitous on later albums, but one song (“Nowhere Near”) anticipates that sound with a reverb-ed clave that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Young Marble Giants track. There’s a maturity to the sound and production that’s hard to pinpoint, a vibe that’s the opposite of “in your face”. It has the same intimate, understated feel as the third Velvet Underground album, or Galaxie 500’s Today.
The material on Painful is remarkable, too. Somehow the songs are among the best the band has ever made, despite the fact that most of them sound like they were developed during the recording process. Words and melodies emerge from repeating modal figures. Songs seem to be built on drones and feedback loops, or around happy effects-pedal accidents. The distorted organ sounds and simple patterns betray the influence of kindred spirits The Clean.
“From A Motel 6″ is a total blast. Georgia and Ira sing in unison, blending their voices perfectly to great, androgynous effect, over a throbbing, churning, thrilling electric guitar. They were clearly paying attention to My Bloody Valentine at this time.
Other Painful highlights include the feedback-soaked noisy pop of “Double Dare”, the drum explosions of “I Was The Fool Beside You For Too Long”, and Everly Brothers-styled harmony on a hushed reading of the Only Ones’ “The Whole Of The Law”.
Extra Painful will be available on vinyl (as a double album plus 7″ single, “ephemera, photos, original band-aid sticker, the first YLT Gazette in 14 years, liner notes by Matador’s Gerard Cosloy and the band”, and a download code for 15 extra songs); double CD (with download coupon for extra tracks); or as a digital download release (without the extra material).
1. Big Day Coming
2. From A Motel 6
3. Double Dare
5. Nowhere Near
6. Sudden Organ
7. A Worrying Thing
8. I Was A Fool Beside You For Too Long
9. The Whole Of The Law
10. Big Day Coming
11. I Heard You Looking
1. Nowhere Near (demo)
2. From A Motel 6 (live acoustic)
3. Tunnel Vision (unreleased instrumental demo)
4. Sudden Organ (demo)
5. Smart Window (unreleased Painful session)
6. Big Day Coming (live acoustic)
7. Slow Learner (unreleased demo)
8. Double Dare (demo)
9. A Worrying Thing (demo)
10. I Heard You Looking (live)
B: For Shame Of Doing Wrong [8-Track Version – the CD single contained a different
version which is on the download coupon]
Archie lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is a sound designer and audio mixer for television, radio, and documentaries. He used to be in a bunch of bands, including Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, and Lilys, and has recorded and mixed records for other bands, including The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.