What's most remarkable about indie kingpins Yo La Tengo -- in existence for 15 years and now releasing album number ten -- is not that they haven't burned out or faded away, but that they're still pushing their limits at a stage when most bands' creative spark has long fizzled out. The trio's last album, 1997's I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE
, was widely acclaimed in both underground and overground media, and sales-wise it about doubled Yo La's audience. Rather than repeat that success with another album of buzzing rock songs interspersed with thoughtful ballads, the band have slightly shifted their course, moving away from strict guitar-bass-drum constructs and instead emphasizing the lovely three-way vocal interplay between Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew on more than an hour's worth of slow, dreamy songs. Lines such as Hubley's drawn out "Let my mind go" ("Saturday") will set your mind adrift against textured percussion, keyboards, and gently programmed drum machines. And the Velvet Underground
comparisons that have accompanied the band throughout their career remain in tow with the set's meditative, brainy hangover feel and songs like "The Crying of Lot G," on which Kaplan talks his way through a relationship ("You say that all we do is fight, and I think, gee, I don't know that that's true/And I wonder, am I right, or is that part of our problem?"). Just when you're about to nod off around the album's midpoint, "Cherry Chapstick" blasts past you like a kid who can't sit still. It's a bright reminder that the group's skill at churning out righteous melodic nuggets -- electric guitars a-buzz, a kick-in-the-pants backbeat, and a sing-along chorus -- remains fully intact. The album's closer, the subdued and wandering 18-minute coda, "Night Falls on Hoboken," brings back into focus the album's true aim: a deep exploration of the sonics of a song, a scraping at its every perimeter to discover new, rich aural treats. Never in the young history of indie rock has maturity sounded so graceful and good.