Fakebook is the fourth album from Hoboken, New Jersey’s own Yo La Tengo. Released by locally-based Bar/None Records in 1990, the record is comprised of 11 cover songs and four retoolings of original material.
For these recordings early collaborator Dave Schramm (formerly of Human Switchboard, and later The Schramms) returned to his graceful duties on guitar, as he also did for Stuff Like That There (2015). Core members Ira Kaplan (vocal, guitars) and Georgia Hubley (vocals, drums, organ) are also joined by Al Greller (The Schramms) on double bass and Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders, The Fugs) playing the fiddle. The album is considered a breakthrough for the band, who would go on to sign with Matador where they remain to this day.
With their first couple of albums Yo La Tengo had gradually earned the attention of the indie community as a band ostensively operating in the shadows of The Velvet Underground, juxtaposing noisy guitar cascades with kind, tender melodies.
Having covered both The Kinks and Love on their 1986 debut, Ride the Tiger, and basically foreshadowing this album with the song “Alyda” off its blistering predecessor, President Yo La Tengo, a year prior, the band had already demonstrated a broad repertoire early on. With Fakebook Yo La Tengo shrugged off any chance of being pigeonholed. The album is thus a transitional album toward the eclectic bliss in years to come, which also stands up as a wonderful listen by its own terms.
A lush, mellow and acoustic affair, Fakebook is an anomaly in a catalog defined by anomalies, and they’ve never sounded quite as likable through the duration of a full LP since. Rather than radically reinterpreting the material, the greatest feat of Fakebook lies in Yo La Tengo’s ability to gently blur the borders between covers and their own songs, transforming it all into one strong and concise piece of work.
Saturated with sweet harmonies and a carefree atmosphere, the sound is intimate and friendly, whether it’s channeled through country-folk or juicy doo-wop (“Emulsified”). Pure gems like “Speeding Motorcycle,” “Can’t Forget” and “The Summer” capture a band still very much in its infancy, while possessing a sense of early-set maturity and sophistication that paved the way for much greatness to come.
Yo La Tengo is one of the most critically acclaimed bands for the last couple decades, and rightfully so. If a common thread can be found in their music, it’s in the dynamic alternation between excessive feedback orgies and graceful, airy dream-pop, while never staying in one place too long.
As a band drawing inspiration from a myriad of sources, Fakebook can be seen as both an homage to their own family tree and a way to introduce their audience to some wonderful songs and songwriters. Some are well-known (The Kinks, John Cale, Cat Stevens), others are more obscure (The Scene is Now, Daniel Johnston), but all are hand-picked and lovingly presented on a silver platter.
The band gets more experimental, explorative and inventive on most of their other records, but Fakebook makes for a perfect start – as well as a perfect ending.
With a catalog of remarkably few weaknesses, and a well-deserved reputation for their live shows, Yo La Tengo is first and foremost an album band. Their late ‘90s records, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (1997) and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000), are especially well-regarded, but this is a band that has been incredibly consistent and constantly evolving throughout their career, leading up to this year’s Stuff Like That There, an album that shares the same feeling and format of Fakebook with a seamless mix of covers and originals.
Yo La Tengo is one of those rare bands you can grow up with, and grow old to, without ever feeling the times have changed. Within their loose framework, the band exists in a perpetual state of exploration, constantly testing their own musical boundaries – and, by consequence, ours.