Condo Fucks

"Fuckbook" (Matador) -- 4 STARS

At this point, Yo La Tengo should need no introduction. The Hoboken, NJ trio haven’t been a part of indie rock history so much as the barometer for its highs and lows. Emerging in the mid-80s with a series of distinctively exuberant college-rock LPs, the band pioneered a sound that fit somewhere between the fury of second-generation post-punk and the ragged grace of jangle pop. Releases like 1989’s “President Yo La Tengo” look ahead to alternative rock and the last major epoch of indie rock, with a balance of shaggy guitar lines and feedback loops screwed against a subdued but gleeful pop framework. The band’s classic trilogy of mid-90s albums, cresting with 1997’s near-perfect “I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One,” paralleled the success of indie cohorts Pavement and Built to Spill, among others. And while the former burned out and the latter signed to Warner Brothers by the end of the decade, to this day Yo La Tengo release another charming, if not altogether overwhelming record roughly every three years for the independent Matador imprint. Their latest, 2006’s “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass,” even proved their most musically consistent, sonically adventurous album since “Heart Beat.”

So what does any of this have to do with Condo Fucks? Condo Fucks are Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. Yo La Tengo is Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew. But Condo Fucks are not Yo La Tengo—not quite, at least. From their cover of the Kinks’ “Big Sky” on their debut to the Beach Boys’ “Little Honda” on “Heart Beat,” Yo La Tengo, more than any of their contemporaries, wears their influences on their sleeve. The YLT companion to “Fuckbook,” 1990’s “Fakebook,” features 11 acoustic covers of balladeers running the gamut from Cat Stevens and Ray Davies to John Cale and Daniel Johnston. But Condo Fucks take the tastemaker ethic a step further. In lieu delicate tribute to Slade, the Electric Eels and the Troggs, “Fuckbook” grinds 11 more of the band’s favorite numbers—would-be garage and glam-rock hits—into a uniformly chunky, fuzzed-out pulp.

All reduction aside, these songs sound pretty much the same. Every track is a short, rambunctious burst of unchained lo-fi energy that squeals and stomps from start to finish. But that’s the point. High points include a murky rendition of the Electric Eels’ “Accident,” filled out with sloppy, half-improvised guitar solos and plenty of feedback, as well as the similarly electrocuted Richard Hell favorite, “The Kid With The Replaceable Head.” A gnashing, two-part race through the Beach Boys’ early single, “Shut Down,” and a punchy one-off of the Zantee’s “So Easy Baby” are so catchy they’d be radio friendly, band name and album title aside. But the finest moment on “Fuckbook” is the unassumingly beautiful cover of the Kinks’ “This Is Where I Belong,” the single cut that could just as easily be on the next Yo La Tengo album. And maybe it should have been instead.

Condo Fucks is Yo La Tengo trying to be all things to everyone. By channeling artists whose work presaged the rise of punk, Yo La Tengo are living vicariously through the bands they love. It’s not difficult to imagine a raucous, 20-minute outtake of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” floating just below the surface on “Fuckbook.” At the same time, Condo Fucks invoke a sonic mantle more recently taken up by lo-fi revivalists like No Age, Abe Vigoda and Times New Viking—the latter even features a track called “Times New Viking Vs. Yo La Tengo” on their latest album. This last point is more coincidence than self-conscious imitation, though; “Fuckbook” is the sound of a band concerned first and foremost with having fun.

But as much fun as it is—plenty, to be sure—it’s difficult to decipher what about the project took three years to create. Yo La Tengo may be one of the older and more sedate artists in indie rock, but the thought of a new vehicle by a band that has delivered so much and so flawlessly can’t help but raise expectations that “Fuckbook” never really satisfies. Taken on the terms that the band seem to be implying with a name like “Condo Fucks,” however, it’s a delightful, if minor, addition to the broad Yo La Tengo canon.

—Staff writer Ryan J. Meehan can be reached at rmeehan@fas.harvard.edu.