'Yo La Tengo' mixes styles and language
There is a T-shirt with a man hanging out of his car, flicking someone off with the caption "Don't F*** with Hoboken". Rock band Yo La Tengo are Hoboken natives and as the colorful motorists of this New Jersey suburb will attest, a 13-year career and 10 studio albums are nothing to screw with.
In early 2000, the band's most recent release, "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out," was met with positive reviews from media outlets as varied as U.S. News and World Report, Entertainment Weekly and Magnet, adding to its ever-growing fan base.
"After we released 'I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One,' the same places we played to small crowds were now becoming full houses," bassist James McNew said in a recent phone interview.
The transition from small crowds to sell-out shows took some time and, no, Yo La Tengo is not cashing in on the Latin Explosion. The band's name is just as mysterious as its album and song titles.
"The titles of albums and our cover art are random," McNew said. "I think, as a band, we are drawn to things that you have to explain yourself. So we implement that in our titles and art."
Georgia Hubley, Ira Kalpan and James McNew are the minds behind the subtle genius and have yet to lose their sense of humor after 13 years. "Everyone in the band comes in with musical ideas, while Georgia and Ira write lyrics," McNew explained.
Starting out in New York's backyard, or Hoboken, N.J., Yo La Tengo has steadily made music that is engagingly poppy while also sonically challenging. Early on, the band strived for a sound that continually layered chaotic guitar riffs. Recently, however, the band has taken a different approach, trading in those chaotic guitars for a more restrained, detail-oriented sound that includes a pleasing, repetitive guitar, gentle drums and melodic bass. Yo La Tengo has not gone soft. Rather, its work of late has been given an improvisational edge that allows room for departure but never forgets the point of return, giving it a sound reminiscent of the Velvet Underground and The Kinks. Current releases have also incorporated certain jazz elements and polyrhythmic attributes.
"Not much has changed," McNew said when asked about the making of the new album. "Our practice spaced has changed. But beyond that, we like to keep it familiar."
Though the band has not changed musically, James can see the effect of Yo La Tengo's perseverance in the the packed clubs and shows across the United States, Japan, Australia and Europe.
Fortunately, Yo La Tengo is making a stop in D.C. at the 9:30 Club on Saturday, Sept. 16. Whether you are a yuppie, loyal fan or just looking for a good rock show, Yo La Tengo will prove, once again, why the Latin Explosion makes everyone feel good.