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Reviewed this week: The Raft, Yo La Tengo, and And So I Watch You from Afar

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Raft

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(independent)

Fusing jazz and funk with reggae, ska and island influences, The Raft presents a pretty eclectic and original blend of musical ingredients. Were it somewhere between 1975 and 1985, you could file them somewhere in the progressive groove-pop section. Embellishing odd-timed beats with keys and saxophones, the band teeters between really rocking and self-indulging, tightly grooving within a sphere of real soulful energy. The awesomeness reaches a peak on the album’s last track, “P.A.T.”, with the aid of guest keyboardist Darby Wolf on the deliciously sonic Hammond organ. Vocalist P.J. Hoynoski provides a great singing voice and some seriously bizarre and interesting lyrics, though his melodies and (overdubbed) harmonies start to sound a bit like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on most of the songs—not a bad thing in moderation, but perhaps a bit over-repeated here. —Tom Sturm

*

Yo La Tengo

Fade

(Matador)

The 13th full-length from these Hoboken indie rockers finds the group in a contemplative mood. Opening with a wistful nod to the past and to the unknown future, the song “Ohm” features repeated lines of “this is it for all we know” rubbing against the mantra-like repetition of “nothing ever stays the same.” While most acts would place a nearly seven-minute track elsewhere, the tune also acts as a signature bookend that is mirrored by Fade’s over-six-minute finale, “Before We Run.” The latter song even includes horns and strings, no doubt courtesy of album producer John McEntire, who was the first new face to shepherd Yo La Tengo through the recording process since 1993. Though much of the band’s material resembles business as usual, fans will find much to cherish, like the distorted opening to the spry “Paddle Forward” or the watery unfolding of “Two Trains.” —Michael Cimaomo

*

And So I Watch You from Afar

All Hail Bright Futures

(Sargent House)

This Belfast, Northern Ireland band offers a restless, exhilarating ride on its third album. Textures change often, though the prevalent wind is one of bright, wistful pop. The sound is propelled by melodic guitar parts that nod toward rough-edged rock, then chime and keen. Vocals aren’t always present, but on one tune, they play a central and intriguing role, forming the basis of the whole song with a string of nonsense syllables (“Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka”). Elements of African music brush right up against triumphant pop, and ambient noises collide with swells of major-key rock. It’s never clear where And So I Watch You from Afar will go, even within a single tune, but the whole does seem unified in its emotional tenor and in sheer exuberance. Even the short works (several hover around two minutes) feel as if they have a narrative arc, as if they unfold over a longer time than the meter says. —James Heflin

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