The Hoboken band Yo La Tengo makes music that behaves like a close friend: strong and steadfast in character, with enough emotional versatility and flexibility to catalyze or commiserate, depending upon the circumstances. The core of the group, guitarist Ira Kaplan and his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley (bassist James McNew rounds out the power trio), are too eclectic and trend-averse to make you tumble and swoon and include them in your mixtapes and year-end best-ofs lists. But wherever your mood resides on the spectrum between bliss and despair, their songs almost always take it up a notch.
Together now for a quarter-century, YLT released their 14th record just last month. Ironically titled, “Popular Songs,” and featuring a cover image of a mangled and smashed cassette, it’s split into two sections. The first involves nine radio-length tunes (total time, 35:51) that swirl with snippets, slabs, and fleeting echoes of familiar riffs — The Beatles’ “Taxman,” The Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself,” Prince’s “Kiss.” That’s followed by three sprawling workouts (total time 36:58) that variously extend ethereal strum-and-drone into boredom-flirting conceptual art and give Kaplan a chance to once again summon his skronking, inner guitar-god.
That’s the two-dimensional description. If the devil is indeed in the details, then the angel is in the angles music takes — the refractions during the interactions. The ongoing beauty of Yo La Tengo is how their songs are simultaneously seamless and silky and yet full of bumpy surprises, the way tapioca pudding feels in your mouth.
Here is a great version of “Here to Fall” from the new record, performed two weeks ago in New York (we can only hope the light show and string section accompany the group to First Avenue tonight). Here is a more jam-oriented song from a gig the night before the previous clip. The tune is “Sugarcube,” from what is regarded as the group’s best record, 1997’s “I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.” And here is YLT’s MySpace page, with some recent songs and more obscure live stuff.
Yo La Tengo at First Avenue, tonight, Oct. 7, 8 p.m., tickets $20.