The Condo Fucks


Rating: 4.5

Label: Matador

First a note about identity: all the reviews of this album that I’ve seen (normally I avoid reading other people’s reviews before reviewing something myself, but there’s so little information about the Condo Fucks that reading reviews seemed to be part of due diligence) have announced that it is really a Yo La Tengo album. It’s true that the claim that the Condo Fucks are a trio from New London, CT is a lie and that the members of the band, Georgia Condo, Kid Condo, and James McNew bear a striking similarity to the members of Yo La Tengo, but that doesn’t make this a YLT album, any more than Magnolia Electric Company albums are really Songs: Ohia albums, or that the Von Südenfed album is really the Fall (even if your grandma on bongos and Mark E Smith singing are all it takes to make a Fall album). When an artist releases something under a different name, it’s wise to assume that artist has a reason for making the distinction, even if it isn’t always obvious what distinguishes a Palace record from a Will Oldham record, a Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy record, or for that matter a Palace Brothers record. This is especially true if the artist in question knows as much about the history of rock and roll as Ira Kaplan does. This is really a Condo Fucks album, even if the Condo Fucks aren’t really who they say they are.

The obvious difference is that Condo Fucks are a garage rock cover band, whereas Yo La Tengo is a sophisticated indie rock band. I don’t say this to put the Condo Fucks down; wild, grungy garage rock is an essential and vital genre, and one that does not necessarily prize or reward original songwriting. The Condo Fucks bring an original style to this set of Small Faces, Electric Eels, Kinks, Beach Boys, Troggs, Richard Hell, Flamin’ Groovies, Young Rascals and Slade covers. There’s a primal energy in the propulsive rhythms and unhinged guitar solos that’s hard to find in even the best garage rock. Ira Kaplan hasn’t let himself loose on a guitar like this since maybe President Yo La Tengo, and it’s incredible that he hasn’t lost a thing in all the years of exploring electronic and trance. The whole band plays with a brutal tightness unmatched in all the garage rock I’ve heard (of course, how many garage rock bands have been together for 17 years and aren’t completely plastered when they play?). Musicians with the ability on display here rarely play music this primitive or this primitively, but the Condo Fucks make a strong argument that the basic ingredients of rock and roll are as deserving of talented attention as more complex kinds of music. This is a blistering, loud, fast, fun album that rewards repeated listens.

One aspect that distinguishes Yo La Tengo among rock bands is their maturity. Growing old gracefully is of course not a goal even held by most bands, and almost none achieve it. Yo La Tengo have never stopped challenging themselves, never stopped growing, never made a “Yo La Tengo record.” Fuckbook, as the name indicates, is an immature record. There’s none of the testing the boundaries of rock, imagining of new sonic possibilities, or movingly personal lyrics you might expect if you’re expecting a Yo La record. At the same time, this record confirms the maturity of the band’s members. There’s a constant temptation for musicians to show off their musicianship, to complicate what should be simple out of a desire to make sure no one fails to see what they can do. Technique becomes more important than effect, and so the music dies. Fuckbook is made by a band that understands what rock and roll is and what it’s for. They’re elder statesmen of the indie scene playing music that’s by and for teenagers, and they understand both what that demands of them and what it demands they leave behind.

This is not the new Yo La Tengo record. If you’re looking for a suitable successor to I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, you’ll have to keep waiting. This is in some ways closer to a successor to Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics, but it’s far more consistent in its material and quality. In that sense, as well as in title, it’s a successor to Fakebook, but stylistically it’s a million miles away. All this is why I think the Condo Fucks should be recognized as a distinct band – the covers here are quite different from Yo La Tengo covers, the band sounds quite different from Yo La Tengo, even if individual pieces will sound familiar to the band’s fans, and the purpose of the band is something quite alien to Yo La Tengo. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for kick-ass rock and roll, you’ll find it here. I can’t wait for the G.I. Joe Extreme record.

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