Essential New Music: Yo La Tengo’s “We Have Amnesia Sometimes”

No one planned for a year like this. Even the survivalists muffed it; they might’ve stocked up on guns and canned goods, but they forgot to learn how to cut their own hair. Faced with unforeseeable circumstances, Yo La Tengo decided to embrace the zeitgeist. During a season in which it was impossible to play any concerts, the trio convened in its practice studio in late April and commenced jamming. Ordinarily, such activities stay behind closed doors, where Ira, Georgia and James can sift through their extended explorations of hypnotic rhythm, contemplative texture or entropic racket, and find bits they can turn into songs. But since 2020 isn’t an ordinary time, they took the good bits and put them up for sale on Bandcamp, one a day, during the third week of July.

At the end of that week, they announced that the tracks comprise an album, which vinyl devotees will be able to buy this fall. Collectively, the handful of songs confirm something that you might’ve suspected about Yo La Tengo’s music all along: Every good song is built upon a foundation of great, mood-establishing sounds. We Have Amnesia Sometimes isn’t entirely unprecedented, since the band has been contributing instrumentals to film soundtracks for years. But while the music on 2002’s The Sounds Of The Sounds Of Science and 2008’s They Shoot, We Score was cut to fit the onscreen action, each of the five tracks on We Have Amnesia Sometimes conforms to an inner logic that dictates its shape and duration. 

—Bill Meyer