The standard knock against Yo La Tengo's last album, 2003's Summer Sun, was that it sounded like one long, quiet, pleasant song stretched to album-length. (Even people who liked Summer Sun had to admit there was some truth to that accusation.) No one will say the same of I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, a White Album-ish effort that works through the band's past obsessions while dredging up some new ones.
Who knew Ira Kaplan had a soulful falsetto in him? But there he is singing his heart out on "Mr. Tough," lodging a complaint against parties unknown and suggesting it might all get worked out on the dance floor. George Jones probably inspired the title, but The Byrds inspire the sound of "The Race Is On Again," which circles Kaplan's voice around Georgia Hubley as both conjure up images of reconciliation, then come together and fade out with the phrases "What am I doing wrong?" and "Will you wait for me?"
It's the most intimate moment on an album that alternates heartbreaking ballads like "I Feel Like Going Home" with the inspired pop of "Beanbag Chair" and the organ-driven garage of "The Room Got Heavy." Ass shuffles through the favorite sounds of Kaplan, Hubley, and bassist James McNew, sandwiching (mostly) short, catchy tracks between two drones that break the 10-minute mark, ushering the album in and out on waves of transcendent noise. This is Yo La Tengo in full 32-flavors mode, but somehow, as with similarly diverse past efforts like I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, they make it all sound cohesive: bongos, feedback, ancient organs, and all. Kaplan doesn't sound entirely convinced that dancing will solve anything on "Mr. Tough," but there probably isn't another band out there with faith in the redemptive power of music—all kinds of music—as Yo La Tengo.