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Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo continues the proud Hoboken tradition of innovation that includes The Feelies and started with Frank Sinatra, but they're musical descendents of the distinctive swirling guitar rock style pioneered by New York bands like The Velvet Underground and later expanded by Television. They're the ultimate music nerd band in many ways, conspicuously unconcerned with being fashion plates and interested only in exploring the various cobwebby corners of pop arcana, from folk-pop to garage rock to post-punk to shoegazer and beyond, and reinterpreting it in an idiosyncratic and endearing style that is unmistakably Yo La Tengo

Former rock critic and guitarist Ira Kaplan and his wife, drummer Georgia Hubley, founded the band in the early '80s and went through a succession of second guitarists and drummers over the next decade before finally finding their ever-steady bassist James McNew. The group's early albums laid down their recurring musical obsessions, which like so many great artists can be split into a noisy side and a sedate side -- the former tending toward buzzing feedback-laced noise-rock and the latter toward warm, jangly noise pop. Throughout these albums -- Ride the Tiger, President Yo La Tengo, and especially 1990's Fakebook -- the group demonstrated their encyclopedic familiarity with music history through their use of distinctive stylistic referents and covers of songs by critical favorites like the Velvets, Dylan, The Kinks, Love, and The Flaming Groovies.

McNew hopped aboard for 1992's May I Sing with Me, which was a droning rhythmic affair influenced by the U.K. shoegazer movement, as was the blissful follow-up, Painful, which began a long association with Matador Records. The noisier and more rockin' Electr-O-Pura came in '95 and then in '97 the critical favorite I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, a long, astonishingly accomplished record of perfect pop and searching guitar ambience that many regard as one of the finest records of the '90s. In 2000, the band issued its ninth proper album, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. In 2002, YLT continued its tradition of progressive rock exploration with a four-song EP called Nuclear War consisting exclusively of different interpretations of the avant-garde jazz classic by Sun Ra.

Maybe covering Sun Ra got the band thinking about sunshine, but in any case they followed soon after in the spring of 2003 with their tenth album, Summer Sun, a record which exploits the band's new cachet with the NPR crowd while still appealing to diehard indie rockers. Filled with gauzy, understated pop songs and noodly jazz-inflected jam sessions, Summer Sun features none of the feedback you'd associate with your big brother's Yo La Tengo. That's OK...if YLT wants to be grown-up, you can be grown up with them, and bless their hearts, they've given your grown-up self the perfect musical accompaniment for this summer's backyard barbecue.