Dump – A Retrospective

Dump is the name taken by Yo La Tengo’s James McNew to release his four-track recordings


Whilst the moniker could possibly be a one word commentary upon the environment of his recording area, it certainly doesn’t mean that the music he makes is.

Originally conceived pre-dating his time as the bassist for Yo La Tengo, his first two ‘proper’ albums are getting a re-release through Morr Music. Superpowerless received its re-release in March, and now it is hte time of I Can Hear Music.

Taking Superpowerless first, it is a 27 track reissue. The first 19 are the album proper, with the remainder from 1992’s Nothing Left EP with two extra tracks attached to that.

Superpowerless feels like a home recorded album should. Every instrument and part is played by McNew, with heart and soul (as contrived as that sounds). It’s what he wants to play, how he wants to play. Importantly, it sounds like he wants it to sound. The production therefore is perfect. Take Outer Spaceways, Inc. It’s essentially a jingle for a made up space flight company and has that throwaway feel of all such pieces of music – which gives it a joy that’s infectious. It’s not perfect, nor does it pretend to be. But he means it.

On Superpowerless you’ll find covers as well as original recordings, and the pick of the bunch is the classic Moon River, which was originally written for ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. Whilst not McNew’s best vocal performance on the album, it’s certainly the most heartfelt.

Moving on to I Can Hear The Music, you could say “more of the same”. Home recordings? Check. Low-fi production? Check. Originals mixed with covers? Check. All instruments played by McNew? Check.

What makes ICHM an intriguing listen is the half-baked feel of some of the songs presented here. Jury Duty feels like it’s not completed, even though the end fades out. Relocation Program sounds like McNew runs out of ideas, so decides to whack some electronic beeps and warbles over it. It’s possible that some of the ideas that went into YLT’s output may have originated as Dump ideas.

However you may feel about this, you should probably buy ICHM for one reason – McNew’s wonderful cover of Ultravox’s Vienna. Stripped down to the bare essentials it suits his voice perfectly, and the understated way he plays each instrument again suits it down to the ground. The second chorus actually sent chills down my spine the first time I heard it.

Dump’s retrospective is a listen that you may find rewarding, but also exasperating at the same time. As a continuous listen, I’d prefer Superpowerless. For individual moments, however, I CAn Hear Music gets the nod


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