Living up to its feisty, yard-long title, Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass is the classic sucker punch -- who'd've expected the band to release a masterpiece two decades into its career? Especially since the last album, 2003's sedate Summer Sun, sounded like a holding pattern, following another chill-out record, 2000's And Then Everything Turned Itself Inside Out. So expectations were muted this time around; would Ira Kaplan, James McNew, and Georgia Hubley retreat permanently into middle-aged mellow or come out swinging?
The title says it all. I Am Not Afraid . . . is a frontal assault that uses practically every weapon in the rock canon, from the disc-opening 10-minute gut shot of vintage axe-on-fire Kaplan ("Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind") to piano-and-horn-blast summer-soul pop ("Beanbag Chair," "Mr. Tough"), tribal-beat organ rave-up ("The Room Got Heavy"), late-night lament ("I Feel Like Going Home"), Byrds jangle ("The Race Is On Again"), and punk dust-up ("Watch Out for Me Ronnie"). When the album closes with another 10-minute controlled burn -- the fittingly titled "The Story of Yo La Tengo" -- you'll queue up smiling for another ass-whuppin' this good.