The long resonances and muted, backwise throbs of Summer Sun's opener suggest a new-found affinity with Boards Of Canada, but you won't find much of that on the other twelve tracks.
Immediately afterwards, Little Eyes re-introduces the dreamy, intimately voiced guitar pop that Yo La Tengo developed on this album's two immediate predecessors, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (their latest title presumably drew sighs of relief from print 'zine subs). Eleven records in, the New Jersey stalwarts are a mellower unit, exploring relationships with compulsive honesty and self-effacing charm; but while it would be easy to see Summer Sun as part of a gradual progression away from yesterday's noise freak-outs and towards a subtler aesthetic - many reviewers already have - the truth isn't quite as simple.
And Then's close, immersive mood remains, but there's a move towards stronger, direct melody, bolstered by an extended palette of instruments: flutes, xylophones, trumpets, pier-end Hammond and gentle electronics all crop up here and there to flesh out some fairly minimalist songwriting. The piano that left off-key splinters in the last record's Saturday also returns in angular, jazzed shapes on the excellent Nothing But You And Me, as well as providing a deep, authoritative anchor for Georgia vs. Yo La Tengo and Moonrock Mambo. Both are solid, funkier pieces that would have stuck out like George Clinton at And Then's comparatively meek therapy session.
The more humdrum elements, too, are well executed. Tiny Birds' strong guitar pattern and dreamy, rhythmic vocal are pulled off with the confidence of Buck/Mills circa Out Of Time or Document (yeah, obviously the singing isn't quite as good), while Season Of The Shark jangles with pleasing predictability. Little Eyes does just enough to reach the sated, drowsy plateau that I Can Hear The Heart was played out upon, powered by quick, steady drums but overcome by narcotic vocal and guitar lines - late-night drive-time for drifting off at the wheel.
Add to that the obligatory and very good ten-minute improv and you have a strong addition to a considerable oeuvre, from a band that is demonstrably not just settling down.
For all its gentleness, Summer Sun is a confident, deeply musical record that shows Yo La Tengo growing in stature within the subtler template that And Then set out, not reclining into it.
(c) 2003 Nathan Midgley
Yo La Tengo