Saturday, November 25, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #25

And we're as close as our detached selves get to being very pleased to say today's song comes from someone who hasn't let a minor detail like his band signing to Wichita records this week stop him from contributing to our collective store of musical experience - Tom, guitarist from the mighty Los Campesinos!:

Yo La Tengo - Blue Line Swinger

Last.fm, that marvellous invention that allows you to advertise to the world just how many times you've listened to those illegally downloaded songs, whilst simultaneously converting you into the most self-conscious of music listeners, so that if you accidentally leave your iTunes running and return to find your collection of indiest of indie hits has been sullied by that Eurythmics b-side you love, you have to make a new account, informs me that I've listened to Yo La Tengo 649 times. I'm not sure whether I left my music playing while I was out to try and gain indie kudos among internet-goers, or whether that's even a lot of listens in the grand scheme of song-listening, but either way they're my third most listened-to band, and I think that this song epitomises everything that's great about them.

Now, I've not done a review like this before, but I figure the best way to do it is to take a leaf out of the Pitchfork book of reviews and go all befuddling melodrama, clichés and polysyllabic words on yo' ass, so excuse that, and don't let a little over-excited hyperbole and overuse of the word 'indie' affect your view of this song. I had a discussion a little while ago with Cardiff's Lord of Indie, John Widdop, about Wolf Parade's I'll Believe In Anything and its unrelenting crescendo, how just as you think its reached its peak, it seems to take an extra step up the so-exciting-it-hurts ladder until you think someone's going to fall off and land in a big, messy puddle of Spencer Krug. I think we agreed that it's one of those perfect songs to finish off any mix-tape (or CD in my case); that melodramatic finale that ensures the last track on side B is one elating splash of indie greatness. Anyway, Blue Line Swinger is similar in many respects.

Clocking in at 9 minutes and 18 seconds, despite stating that it's 3:15 on the album sleeve (the cheeky liars!), Blue Line Swinger is pretty much one long build up and it certainly takes its time in building up. It's a pretty simplistic structure, based around a descending sequence of 4 quivering organ notes that start off proceedings, before Georgia Hubley introduces some disjointed, sporadic tom bashing. Some wailing guitar notes, teetering on the brink of feedback then join the sparse, almost tribal drumming, before settling into a comfortable-ish riff. Somewhere along the line, a bass has joined in to emphasise and fill out the repeating descent, and that's essentially what's brilliant about this song: the 3 1/2 minute segue between the almost random, dislocated drums and melody into a 4/4 drum beat and fixed guitar riff is so smooth that it's almost impossible to notice. Both the drums and guitar seem to hold back from syncopated rhythms for as long as possible, until at 3 minutes 43, you're suddenly aware that the song has settled into something approaching a conventional song, as Ira Kaplan layers some ghostly vocals over the building effervescent cacophony (take that, Pitchfork). From there on, the song just keeps building, each time peaking and then taking an extra step up the so-exciting-it-hurts ladder until someone falls off and lands in a big, messy puddle of Ira Kaplan. Or at least until your speakers are shaking with feedback and Fender Jazzmaster noise solos.

It's a truly awesome song that I can't get tired of hearing and every time I listen it feels far shorter than the 9:18 it claims, but it's always a brilliant way to spend 10 minutes of your life. I even stood under the cavernous nostrils of Kaplan at a recent gig in Cardiff so that I could beleaguer him with requests for this song, to which, having just played an epic version of I Heard You Looking, he eventually told me I was 'insane'. In a post-gig, fan-boy, 'will-you-sign-my-setlist?' chat with the man, I then discovered that they rarely play the song live. He did remember one occasion they had done though, 'just to prove we could play it', in New York at Hanukkah where Yo La Tengo do a run of shows. I was a little gutted to hear that I'd missed that show, but basically, if I ever happen to be in that city when the Festival of Lights comes around, I hope to be staring up at those same nostrils, shouting the title of this song in the vague direction of these fine, fine musicians.

5 comments:

The Ledge said...

The first time I saw (and heard) Yo La Tengo was at Sheffield Leadmill in the mid-nineties. They were supporting Stereolab and ended their set with the incredible Blue Line Swinger and I've been a fan ever since. Georgia sings it, by the way, not Ira.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the correction, I was never sure...And I resent you for having seen that song played live, it must've been superb. I also resent you for pointing out my fundamental error publically, obviously :)

Melissa said...

I stumbled upon this looking for Blue Line Swinger's lyrics. I wish you could have seen them play in Orlando two nights ago. In spite of my rabid hopes, I had no expectation of hearing them play Blue Line Swinger, yet they finished their main set with it. It was beyond what I imagined it could be live.

Elwyn said...

I'm sure they do it a lot more than they claim to.

They've played it each time they've played The Metro in Sydney, Australia and once at one of their Melbourne shows this year.

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