Stealing equally from the Velvets' fragile ballad "Pale Blue Eyes" and the scabrous, ramshackle "Sister Ray," Yo La Tengo displays an ability to shift seamlessly from delicate textures to ragged, distortion-spiked guitar -- an ability exceeding that of any of the late-'80s noise-pop acts that came up around them. But over the past 20 years, they've outgrown their influences, establishing themselves as underground exemplars who consistently produce terrific, intriguing releases.
Drummer Georgia Hubley's breathy vocals mesh with singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan's nearly affectless croon (more Tom Verlaine than Lou Reed), sidling up alongside the perky melodies that fuel their rock material. At other moments, they're quiet and lingering, copping slowcore's plaintive minimalism and introspection. In either approach, Kaplan and his wife Hubley project an artless honesty and rib-nudging wit ("Let's Save Tony Orlando's House") that make them feel as comfortable as friendly neighbors.
After a couple of pop-oriented releases, Yo La Tengo returned last year with I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, in which Kaplan revisits his unhinged playing within an eclectic mix that references a wide range of influences.