The Terry Riley force is strong with this new Yo La Tengo single. Bearing the title “James and Ira demonstrate mysticism and some confusion holds (Monday),” it’s the famed indie-rock band in full meditative mode. It’s a flowing drone that has the raga quality of early Riley. If you’d said this is something off the new Laraaji album, it’d make sense, what with the echoey, zithery goings-on — except of course, the new Laraaji record is solo piano. So while that early ambient musician is revisiting the purpose of songs, this song-making band is exploring spaciousness, formlessness, song-less-ness.
Well, not song-less, so much as pre-song, proto-song, nascent song. As member Ira Kaplan explains in an accompanying note on the track’s Bandcamp release page: “If you’ve spent any time hanging out with us at our rehearsal space in Hoboken — that pretty much covers none of you — you’ve heard us playing formlessly (he said, trying to sidestep the word ‘improvising’). Most of the songs we’ve written in the last 25 years have begun that way, but often we do it for no other reason than to push away the outside world.” So, what this is is the space in which a song might occur, the raw stuff from which a song might arise. Sidestepping the word “improvising” feels like a solid step. This doesn’t sound like improvising so much as it does like three people finding common tonal ground, and upon finding it, holding onto it for as long as feels right, and not a moment longer.
“James set up one microphone in the middle of the room in case we stumbled on something useful for the future,” writes Ira (the James is fellow member James McNew). “Instead we decided to release something we did right now.” This is the sound of right now. Or it was yesterday, when it came out. We’re not currently inhabiting a now worth celebrating, and yet yesterday’s now was splendid — is splendid. Here’s to more of such a now, while the broader, untenable now persists.