Strip away the three monsters that begin, end, and shore up the middle of Yo La Tengo's new release, and you might be tempted to call this the band's '60s album. Without those tracks, I Am Not Afraid would be the band's most concise album in ages: a dozen songs (not jams or soundscapes) in 46 minutes -- many of them rooted in Beatles-era verities.
"Watch Out for Me Ronnie" is tightly frenzied surf-punk with a horn part that's unexpected, but precisely right. "Mr. Tough" pays homage to pre-disco R&B. "The Room Got Heavy" features a dirty two-finger organ that sounds as if it should be backing a scene on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The psych-rock explosion of opener "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," the ambient-plus palate-cleanser "Daphnia," and closer "The Story of Yo La Tango [sic]," are welcome, not just because they muscle things up, but also because Yo La Tengo's members are expert pastiche artists who sound best doing what at this point is best referred to as classic Yo La Tengo.