Yo La Tengo & r &
I Am Not Afraid of You And I Will Beat Your Ass & r &
4 and 1/2 stars & r &
From the "Music That Matters" category, Yo La Tengo showcases why they are still the best band that nobody acknowledges. Georgia, Ira, and James, in their seemingly billionth studio album, refuse, once again, to be pegged. The loud-guitar-feedback-and-fuzz numbers? Check. ("Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" and "The Story of Yo La Tengo" both surpass the 10-minute mark.) The wistful, meanderingly complex lamentation? Check. (See "I Feel Like Going Home" and "Black Flowers.") There is nothing off the mark here.
From the "Best Album Title of the Year" category, once more the honors go to these Hoboken-based champions. The 15 tracks surpass the 75-minute barrier -- more music than many of their contemporaries create in two albums. And therein lies the beauty of the outrageous claim in the title. Kicking ass is much easier with supreme self-confidence. Much will sound familiar even to neophytes -- an indication of just how much influence the band still has.
-- CAREY MURPHY
DOWNLOAD: "Mr. Tough"
Branford Marsalis Quartet & r &
Braggtown & r &
4 and 1/2 stars & r &
Less focused on tradition than Footsteps of Our Fathers, less overtly spiritual than Eternal, the seven tracks of Braggtown have their own boasts to make. In the album's highlight, "Hope," the piano of composer Joey Calderazzo blends with Marsalis' yearning soprano tone in a ballad that descends almost into hopelessness at midpoint, then intensifies as Marsalis' ascending runs search insistently for what will set us free. Drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts shines on his composition "Blakzilla": While pounding the toms and slashing at cymbals, his angry accents are evident even under Branford's wailing tenor line. Yet there's a milder classical influence here also: "O Solitude" is based on a Henry Purcell work, and the liner notes compare Calderazzo's work to Chopin and Messiaen. On "Black Elk Speaks," by bassist Eric Revis, Branford's tenor recalls and even quotes late-era Coltrane. But Revis -- underneath repeated growls of "beautiful day to die" -- comes to the forefront with his percussive fretwork and ferocious use of the bow. Branford's quartet has earned some bragging rights.
-- MICHAEL BOWEN