Better Than Might Be Expected, But Fair Wears Thin
Pop Kulcher | San Carlos, CA USA | 11/23/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Pop Kulcher Review: While I'm a dedicated fan of Yo La Tengo (in my opinion, the most exciting band of the 1990's), I put off buying this 1998 side-project. The album features YLT backing the vocals of Jad (David) Fair, part of the art/punk band Half-Japanese, whose nasal, semi-spoken oddities I've always found amusing but somewhat irritating. But the album is much better than it should be. Rather than tossing off some half-baked background music, YLT actually compose some tight, concise little numbers, which fully realize their wide range of styles, from quiet acoustic folkiness to upbeat power guitar rock to full-on sonic chaos. And Fair's lyrics -- essentially a series of rhyming vignettes based on what appear to be National Enquirer headlines -- are at least amusing. His little-boy spoken-word approach is somewhere between indie-icon Daniel Johnston (another YLT collaborator, of sorts) and iconoclastic bands like Ween and They Might be Giants. Sure, I would have preferred to hear YLT's vocals on top of the music, but for a novelty side-project it's relatively fun, and further confirmation of YLT's status as one of the most consistently entertaining and innovative bands around. I'd even offer up the straightforward buzzsaw guitar rocker "Texas Man Abducted By Aliens For Outer Space Joy Ride" (in which Fair comes closest to actually singing) as an essential part of the YLT catalog. On the downside, Fair's vocals do annoy over the course of an entire album, so this is best enjoyed in small bites."
A pleasant novelty
Pop Kulcher | 10/16/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)
"For some, the combination of indie rock idiot savant Jad Fair and the deservedly beloved Yo La Tengo might be a match made in heaven. Given the abrasive and atonal musical possibilities explored by both artists in the past, "Strange But True" could have been an epic summit of avant-garde noise. But it's not.Instead, it's a charming, minor story-song album that you could almost play for children. Jad Fair talks his way through his odd little pseudo-tabloid tales--all self-descriptively named, such as "Helpful Monkey Helps Wallpaper Entire Home" and "Ohio Town Saved from Killer Bees by Hungry Vampire Bats." (For all I know, these are REAL headlines from things like the Weekly World News, and Fair just invented lyrics for the titles.) It's cute (sweet, even), innocent, clever, and nothing you'd want to hear more than a few times. Yo La Tengo's involvement is to provide the musical soundtrack to these narrations, and they do a wonderful job, providing a diverse selection of atmospheric backings in their various styles (Fair honks along on sax on a couple of tracks). The album was recorded around the time of "Electr-O-Pura," and you can hear a couple musical ideas from that album turn up here too. Many of the tracks are so good that it's a shame they don't feature YLT songs sung by Ira and Georgia.Jad Fair is an acquired taste and his fans will no doubt like this. YLT diehards will have to have it just to hear another 40 minutes of music from their heroes. And, as I said earlier, clever children might even enjoy it. But on the whole, "Strange But True" is destined to become a forgotten novelty."
An exercise in weirdness, but little more than that
Pop Kulcher | 06/04/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Yo La Tengo fans should beware; this album is not exactly what they might expect.I give this 2 stars for a certain curiosity factor and for the kinda wacky lyrics, but in terms of music and production, this is a far cry from other Yo La Tengo albums. "Weak" sounds like an understatement.Even though the music is credited to YLT, this is much more of a Jad Fair album. Their musical talents hardly shine through as the production is a devil-may-care kind of lo-fi, the songs rarely extend beyond 2 minutes and seem mere fragmented vehicles to transport Fair's jumbled vocals. A major disappointment."