Autumn Sweater

Indian summer yesterday, autumn sweater today. In 1997 Yo La Tengo released I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, a double album of perfectly formed New York indie rock. Within the four sides of vinyl lies possibly their best song, certainly one of their most affecting.

Autumn Sweater seems to tell the story of a couple who’ve reached the end of the road and the regret that that entails. Songs about relationship break ups and endings are ten- a penny but Ira Kaplan manages to find a new way to express something about this opening verse

‘When I heard the knock at the door
I couldn’t catch my breath
Is it too late to call this off?

We could slip away
Wouldn’t that be better
Me with nothing to say
And you in your autumn sweater’

Songs about relationship break ups and endings a ten a penny but Ira Kaplan manages to find something new to say in the opening verse. There’s insecurity in there, not knowing what to do, wanting to turn the clock back and a feeling that escape would be for the best- and the thing that sticks in his mind most is a piece of clothing. The sense of loss comes through again in the middle eight section…

‘I’ll try hard, I’ll try always
but it’s a waste of time
it’s a waste of time if I can’t smile easily
like in the beginning
in the beginning’

Musically there’s just bongos, drums and organ- from the opening drumbeat and shakers to the descending chords and fuzz part, nothing is overcooked. A mini masterpiece. What’s more you can hear the leaves turning brown.

Autumn Sweater



I’m launching into what may be an ill conceived Friday series here at Bagging Area. Last Friday I posted several songs about honey- songs by Death In Vegas, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Pastels and Spacemen 3. Today’s musical foodstuff is sugar, delicious, addictive, lipsmacking sweet stuff (that a report recently said is the real cause of the modern obesity crisis in the western world). A quick search of my hard drive reveals I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to sugar.

The lightest song on The Stone Roses debut album from May 1989 was about a girl, a sugar spun sister, opening with John Squire’s crystalline guitar chords and Ian’s softly sung vocals. The chorus turns things a little in what seems on the surface to be a fairly simple love song- the sky going green, the grass blue, M.P.s involved in solvent abuse- all these things would happen before she is happy with him. There’s a bit after the second chorus where there’s a pause and in the gap Ian sings ‘my hands….. are stuck to my jeans’ which is very nicely done (and which for years I misheard as ‘stuck to my dreams’). The sugar analogy is back at the end as Squire winds things up- she is the candy floss girl, he the sticky fingered boy.

(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister

In 1997 Yo La Tengo put out a career highpoint, the double album I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, an album which is a masterpiece of its kind. Sugarcube was in the middle of side 1 and later released as a single, 3 minutes 21 seconds of New York dreamy, soft noise perfection.


Lyrically it’s a bit more oblique than The Stone Roses sugar spun song but I think it’s about the same thing ultimately…

‘Whatever you want from me
Is what I want to do for you
Sweeter than a drop of blood
On a sugarcube
And though I like to act the part of being tough
I crumble like a sugarcube
For you’

More sugar vicar?

AR Kane’s sugar song came out in 1989 and is a lilting, off-kilter song, acoustic guitars and odd tunings and another case of sugar being a female who’s a little too sweet.


There’s loads more sugar on my hard drive- The Orielles have a song from last year (with an Andrew Weatherall remix to boot) called Sugar Tastes Like Salt, Slowdive’s recent triumph gave us Sugar For The Pill, there’s some Balearic Sugar Water from Kamasutra, Echo And The Bunnymen’s glorious 1987 single Lips Like Sugar and Secret Knowledge’s Sugar Daddy, a 1994 epic from Kris Needs and Wonder. I think I’ve posted all of these before at some point. There’s plenty more sugar in my record collection too but I’ll wrap this up with one more sugary delight before our teeth fall out. Four years ago Timothy J Fairplay released a 12″ in his Junior Fairplay rave guise, a back to the old skool circa 1990-1 retro-rave track that I love to pieces. Created using solely a breakbeat and a Korg 1, a vocal whoop and a stacatto ‘yeah!’, and then released on one sided purple vinyl, it is fun bottled, the future backwards. Sugar Puss.

Now go and clean your teeth.

You Shouldn’t Hide But You Always Do

From northern England yesterday to New Jersey today. I’ve posted some Yo La Tengo but make no apologies for putting some more up. In 1993 they released Painful, an album combining their love of ambience and atmospherics with melodic guitar and noise. The noise on From A Motel 6 is there at the start and comes in ecstatic bursts afterwards. Motel 6 is a nationwide chain of budget motels. I always imagined someone similar, Teenage Fanclub say, writing a British equivalent about Travelodges or Premier Inns in reply.

From A Motel 6

Now I’m Looking For A Lucky Charm

If you’re looking for sublime, romantic indie-rock with happy sad melodies, just the right amount of fuzz, some chiming noise and the sense that something else is out there, just out of reach, there’s no finer sound than Yo La Tengo in the mid 90s. Tom Courteney is a marvellous example- maybe their finest (although I’m willing to listen to arguments for Autumn Sweater, From A Motel 6, Sugarcube and Big Day Coming. Actually this list could go on and on…)

Tom Courteney

Big Day Coming

Big day today- child number two, our daughter ET, starts at secondary school, getting the bus on the main road, full uniform and bags, and all the kit and caboodle that comes with it. As a secondary school teacher I’ve seen thousands of children do this but it all seems a bit different when it’s one of your own. On the bright side, she’s confident, she’s looking forward to it and she seems ready. Onwards and upwards.

Yo La Tengo have some great songs in their back catalogue, including this one, a slow, fuzzy song that packs a punch.

Big Day Coming

Yo La Remix

I found this recently and was going to wait for autumn but frankly that involves planning- Yo la Tengo put out a career spanning double disc about a decade ago. Limited quantities came with a third disc, the main highlight of which was this- Autumn Sweater remixed by MBV’s Kevin Shields. Autumn Sweater is a beautiful, slow burning song of lost love, shyness, leaves turning brown and the need for an extra layer of clothing. Kevin Shields sidesteps that for a drum loop, a repeated organ part, an isolated and distorted vocal, an overloaded bass riff. Then he begins to add some other loops, all running on and on for just shy of nine minutes. Stunning.

Autumn Sweater (Kevin Shields Remix)

Yo La Tengo ‘Autumn Sweater’

Something to ease the soul and lift the spirits after a Wednesday night which ended in some disappointment round these parts (and many thanks to all those who texted messages of support after we were dumped out of the Champions League last night). I saw Yo La Tengo play the Roadhouse in Manchester after I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One came out, about ten years ago I reckon. They were fantastic, playing guitar drones, rock-outs, moments of lo-fi spine-tingling beauty, and some random covers (Gram Parsons, Sham 69). This is their finest moment to these ears, although there are many other contenders- And Then Nothing Turned itself Inside Out is a great album, last year’s Popular Songs held up well, and from their early stuff from you’ve got to go a long way to find better songs than Big Day Coming and From A Motel 6.

This song, Autumn Sweater (and somewhere I’ve got a Kevin Shields remix I need to dig out), is autumn captured on tape, all disappointment, loneliness, longing and regret- ‘We could slip away, maybe that’d be better, me with nothing to say and you in your autumn sweater’. Lovely drums and organ, descending bassline, whispered vocals. Maybe not quite what we want on a sunny spring morning but it’ll fit for the moment.

02 Autumn Sweater.wma