There are two main things that are going to get you to notice Chris Stamey’s new album, A Question of Temperature. The first is Chris Stamey, onetime member of the dB’s, sometime collaborator with Alex Chilton and Bob Mould and producer of the likes of Whiskeytown and Yo La Tengo. And the second thing is that last band, Yo La Tengo, who plays backup band for Stamey on this release. And be honest, there are some readers who will, most likely, listen to the album just to hear Ira Kaplan’s guitar work alone. And that’s fine. But there is a lot more going on than just the Hoboken trio’s instrumental work here.
A Question of Temperature is a unique collection of songs, consisting of five covers, eight originals and a public service announcement. You see, this whole album sort of started out with the intent of revolving around the PSA, titled “V.O.T.E.,” which the foursome recorded to encourage the kids to vote. Along with the PSA, Stamey and YLT threw in some politics-minded covers, like Cream’s “Politician” and Eddie Harris and Les McCann’s “Compared to What?” Then, they piled on some originals, some of which have absolutely no relation to the political mood, topped the album off with some instrumentals, and the end result is AQOT.
Given the talent that went into this record, it’s not surprising that it’s so easy to like. The PSA is groovin’ (just like voting, according to its lyrics), the covers of “Politician,” Television’s “Venus” and The Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things” totally rock and the instrumentals are unmistakably Yo La Tengo. But Stamey’s own compositions are the central driving force of this record. Sort of (there are a lot of covers after all). The originals, however, are what will keep you listening after the familiarity of the covers has drawn you in. The Beatlesque “Summer Sun” is nothing less than what its title implies, a sunshiny three minutes of pure pop. “Desperate Man” is a straightforward, bluesy rock `n’ roll tune. And “Sleepless Nights” is dream-pop bliss.
“Dr. Strangelove’s Assistant” is the final tune on the record (aside from “V.O.T.E.”) and has my vote for best song. Combining marimba, mandolin, distorted guitar drones and whistling, it’s irresistible tin-pan alley kookiness. It is an instrumental, after all, but even those who prefer more singing with their melodies shouldn’t have any problem warming up to it.
Stamey and Yo La Tengo pair together well. A Question of Temperature is definitely Chris Stamey’s record, but Kaplan, Hubley and McNew hold their own, leaving their indelible mark on this fantastic record. Perhaps they should try it again sometime, hopefully sooner than later.
Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One
Chris Stamey – Travels in the South
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.