I was one of those people who finally actually heard Yo La Tengo long after they'd started making music. I'd heard their name tossed around on many ocassion, but simply never checked them out for some reason or another until their And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out album, and from that disc alone I got hooked on them. After hearing that Summer Sun was a bit of a letdown for the group, I finally got around to hearing it. After hearing it, I've come to the conclusion that Yo La Tengo is a bit like pizza. In further explaining that metaphor, I once heard that pizza is like sex in that even when it's not that good, it's still good. Yo La Tengo is like both of those things. They're a group that you can count on, and even when they've not firing on all cylinders (as they sometimes aren't on Summer Sun), they still make some darn good music.
Yo La Tengo has always been one to give you your moneys worth (many of their albums cross the 70 minute mark), and Summer Sun is no different, clocking in at well past an hour. It's true that they could probably do a few snips here and there with many of their releases and end up with something slightly better, but as the title states, this is sort of a lazy little release and the run-length is never uncomfortable.
Although it sounds Beach Boys-influenced, the opening track of "Beach Party Tonight" is actually one of those great ambient tracks that the group seems to pull off whenever they want. It's three minutes of warm organs, backwards guitars, and dreamscape swirls of vocals, but it works like a charm as the percussion pitter-patters in the background. "Little Eyes" follows with a charming pop gem, playing breathy vocals by Georgia Hubley off quiet licks of guitar and a propulsive, but subdued rhythm. "Nothing But You And Me" mixes some upright bass and piano with minimal percussion for a slight jazzy feel, while "Season Of The Shark" again hits with an absolute winner of a track, puttering along with some lo-fi bossanova sounds and great vocals by Ira Kaplan.
From there, things get a little bit more woozy and a slight bit wanky, kind of like walking on the beach in the hot sun when you're a little low on hydration. "Today Is The Day" curls some surf-style guitars around slow organs and quiet drums, while "How To Make A Baby Elephant Float" again tosses in a touch of bossanova. Pianos get a workout, as both the bulk of "Georgia Vs. Yo La Tengo" and "Winter A-Go-Go" are driven by the ivory riffs that take turns duking it out with swirling guitars. "Let's Be Still" arrives as the epic of the disc, clocking in at over 10 minutes long and is one of the only tracks on the release to feature Kaplan and Hubley doing vocal harmony (as well as a lot of flute/piano/guitar/trumpet jamming).
By the time the end of the album hits with the slightly-country-fied (but very touching) cover of Big Star's "Take Care," things feel a bit draggy, but it's mainly because the more upbeat numbers are loaded near the front of the release. I've heard in various places that the sequencing for the album was a bit rushed due to one circumstance or another, and that would be my main complaint with the album. The back two-thirds of the disc simply wanders around a bit too much, but there are still some real gems on the disc as well (especially "Little Eyes" and "Season Of The Shark"). If you're a fan of the group, you're not going to go wrong here, but if you're still wanting to dive into their rather imposing catalogue (this is their 12th release), check out I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.