Yo La Tengo roams freely over musical landscape on varied 'Popular Songs'

If being eclectic becomes habitual, is it still eclectic? If we’re talking about Yo La Tengo, does it really matter?

The habitually eclectic band returns with a typically eclectic album, “Popular Songs” (Matador), the New Jersey trio’s first album (under its own name, anyway — see also, “Condo Fucks”) since “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass” in 2006. As usual, there’s no telling from any one song what the other tunes might sound like. There’s a subdued, atmospheric thing here, a ’60s-style garage rocker there, and plenty of variations in between.

Opener “Here to Fall” fits in the first category, with fuzzy synthesizers and dramatic strings cascading over an insistent psychedelic rhythm part comprising damp cymbals, a two-note bass line and swirling wah-wah guitar.

“Nothing to Hide,” by contrast, is a straight-up old-school rocker packed full of fuzztone guitars and blaring organ. Same goes for “Periodically Double or Triple” and “If It’s True.” The former sounds like something that might have come out of Stax Records in the late ’60s, with organ bursts and a groovy bass line, and the latter, with its Temptations bass part and quiet vocal harmonies, sounds like a whitebread Motown outtake, in the best possible way.

“All Your Secrets” is the epitome of college rock, with lovely vocal harmonies, laid-back drums and gently whirring organ, while 16-minute closing tune “And the Glitter is Gone” is a sprawling, discordant rave up with waves of guitar washing over a steady, repeating drum pattern. Each is just one of the many sides of Yo La Tengo, a band that has demonstrated over the past 25 years that it’s willing to try just about anything — with consistently successful results.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Steve Gullick

Here to Fall mp3

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