Album Review: Yo La Tengo: The Bunker Sessions


Photo Credit: Cheryl Dunn

The eclectic American indie rock band Yo La Tengo have consistently been releasing record after record since their debut in 1986; from curating their own twists on classic tunes like The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m in Love’ to forming their own sound through intricate LPs. Since then Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have not given up on their creative chemistry. Not many bands can say they’ve consistently produced albums for nearly 40 years straight, let alone ones that not only resonate with their dedicated fanbase, but also new listeners. 

Yo La Tengo’s latest release, This Stupid World, is an expansion on this. Their sound is entirely unique, with previous albums touching on genres like soul, country, or folk, and this album specifically shows that the band ages like fine wine. Although the overall sound of This Stupid World is quite focused, its production style varies and makes sure to keep things interesting, and certainly unique. Although only a 9 song tracklist, this record is rich and full of noteworthy moments. The opening track, ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’, alone is proof of this; spanning 8 minutes long. Here the band manages to add a new ‘metallic’ flare to their sound, specifically in the form of a reverberated guitar. Although this track might not be for everyone, considering its lengthy and cacophony-esque nature, its compelling solos are certainly intriguing. Regardless, ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ sets the record up well, especially for the case of track 3, ‘Tonight’s Episode’. Then ‘Aselestine’ , which is more comparable to what most think of when they hear the name ‘Yo La Tengo’: the soft, airy, and dreamy vocals by Hubley and soothing percussion accompanied by acoustic finger-picking that compliments it well. A few more highlights from the album include, but are not limited to, ‘Apology Letter’ and the title track. Even though it has been 9 months since This Stupid World came to fruition, it still feels as though there is so much to discuss, and with the recent streaming release of The Bunker Sessions, a whole new life and perspective can be found within some of these beloved tracks.

The Bunker Sessions is an EP that was recorded at the Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, New York and is composed of live versions from This Stupid World. The EP also includes the Yo La Tengo classic, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ from their 1997 release I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ remains as track 1, and this new version has a twang to it, favouring a more swingy sound rather than its original heavy nature. The guitar solo around minute marker 3:30 is a bit more disgruntled than before, adding more layers than what is found in the This Stupid World recording. Next comes ‘Aselestine’, another interesting moment of this compilation. The guitar seems almost more electric in this rendition, but Hubley’s vocals remain impressive and hardly unchanged. Track 3 is ‘Fallout’, and the guitar is noticeably different and rhythmically the vocals are much louder than before. This version favours the guitar over the heavy drum and symbols as well. The final This Stupid World moment on this EP is ‘Apology Letter’; the original recording is very smooth, calm, and quite slow moving with a dreamy aura. What sounds like an organ can be found in the initial version, but the live ‘Apology Letter’ replaces that sound with a more plucky-guitar. The final track is ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, which begins similarly to the original, but comes across as more swingy this go around. When the electric guitar solo makes its entrance, the stark contrast is a wake up call in the midst of the previous mood. The best aspect of the live versions is especially highlighted with ‘Stockholm Syndrome’; seeking out the small and big changes brings fun to the listening experience, especially for longtime fans.

Overall, The Bunker Sessions is definitely something to look into, especially if you’re a fan of This Stupid World, or Yo La Tengo in general. The trio develops their sound deeply with this project, and the reimagination of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is especially something to experience. First, check out This Stupid World, and compare and contrast production differences from the original recordings to the lives found in The Bunker Sessions. Yo La Tengo has a deep history together; if you have never delved into the world of Yo La Tengo, their expansive discography has a lot to offer for all music fans, especially when considering these two new releases.

Watch the sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLfqWkY7RIxIV2SkxRADOURFSTLL0fJYuB