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10 essential Yo La Tengo tracks

Yo La Tengo
Photograph: Carlie Armstrong

It feels lazy to describe a band as versatile, but Yo La Tengo, the veteran indie-rock trio of guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James McNew, fits the bill. Whether it’s lengthy jams or short-and-sweet pop you’re in the mood for, this legendary Hoboken, NJ, act—famous for its lengthy annual run of Hanukkah gigs at Maxwell's, which ran from 2001 through 2012—has something for you. In celebration of its 30th year as a group and a reissue of its 1993 LP, Painful (called Extra Painful), YLT plays the Town Hall this Wednesday and Thursday, December 3 and 4. Here, we select ten key tracks from the group's sizable discography.

“Emulsified”
(Fakebook, 1990)
From the covers-heavy Fakebook comes Yo La Tengo’s take on “Emulsified,” a 1961 R&B track by Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers. From its insistent organ to Kaplan’s impassioned lead vocal, “Emulsified” is fun to the bone.

“Mushroom Cloud of Hiss”
(May I Sing With Me, 1992)
Yo La Tengo is known for its sensitivity, but “Mushroom Cloud of Hiss” hits hard. Punkish and wild, the song drops into about two minutes of pure noise at the six-minute mark.

“Big Day Coming [Second Version]”
(Painful, 1993)
Painful offers two looks at the Yo La Tengo original “Big Day Coming.” The first is calming and ethereal, but “Big Day Coming [Second Version],” with its distorted guitar and driving drums, is where it’s at. “Let’s wake up the neighbors / Let’s turn up our amps,” sings Kaplan.

“Sugarcube”
(I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, 1997)
Loud and brief, “Sugarcube” also features an avant-garde guitar solo and the strange repeated line “try to squeeze a drop of blood from a sugarcube.” What more could you want?

“Stockholm Syndrome”
(I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, 1997)
The sad, acoustic-guitar-driven “Stockholm Syndrome” is another knockout from the YLT classic I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. The emotional electric guitar solo in the middle is both a surprise and a pleasure.

“Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House"
(And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, 2000)
The funky “Let’s Save Tony Orlando’s House” features both organ and dreamy electric piano. But the real star is Hubley’s sweet, reassuring lead vocal.

“Sea Urchins”
(The Sounds of the Sounds of Science, 2002)
The immersive Sounds of the Sounds of Science is an original soundtrack to a collection of short films shot beneath the sea by Jean Painlevé. Opening piece “Sea Urchins” is full of love, discovery, gooey bass and rippling guitar; it deserves to be played over and over.

“Little Eyes”
(Summer Sun, 2003)
From Hubley’s comforting vocals to the dusky intimacy of the track itself, Yo La Tengo’s voice is crystal clear on “Little Eyes.” Though the song is short, Hubley’s softly insistent drums make one wish it would never end.

“Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”
(I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, 2006)
A crunchy, cathartic jam if ever there was one, “Pass the Hatchet” is nearly 11 minutes of shiny rock guitar, relentless bass, minimal vocals and encouraging drums. “Pass the Hatchet” can't merely be listened to; you have to let it wash over you.

“Ohm”
(Fade, 2013)
Like “Little Eyes,” “Ohm” could only have been made by Yo La Tengo. Hope, groove, simplicity… these are core elements of both “Ohm” in specific and YLT in general.

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