Yo La Tengo: Our Life in 15 Songs - Rolling Stone
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Yo La Tengo: Our Life in 15 Songs

Hoboken veterans survey three decades of eclectic indie rock

Yo La Tengo

Dusdin Condren

Founded in Hoboken in 1984 by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, restless indie experimenters Yo La Tengo grew out of a series of early-Eighties cover bands with never-repeating setlists. As the group expanded its palette and shuffled its lineup, the cover songs remained and have featured on nearly every Yo La Tengo recording since, ranging from then-unreleased tunes by friends (such as Yung Wu's "The Empty Pool" on 1986's Ride the Tiger) to a 12-inch of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" in 2003. Like 1990's beloved semi-acoustic Fakebook, the new Stuff Like That There consists mainly (but not entirely) of other people's songs, including several Yo La Tengo originals alongside numbers by George Clinton, the Cure, Hank Williams (via Al Green), Antietam, Special Pillow, Great Plains and more.

Also like Fakebook, the album marks the return of Dave Schramm, the elegant and inventive twang specialist who played in some of the band's earliest lineups and has returned to duty periodically since. Unlike Fakebook, Stuff Like That There features bassist James McNew, who joined the band as a bassist in 1991 and quickly became an equal collaborator — and who, for the new album, learned upright bass, in part by taking a few lessons from free-jazz legend Henry Grimes. While the cover songs and Schramm's curling guitar might resemble the folk-tinged quartet that debuted with a self-released single in 1985, Yo La Tengo have been many places in the intervening 30 years.

Though Kaplan and Hubley have relocated to Manhattan since the 2013 closing of Maxwell's, Hoboken's hometown rock club, the group still practices and picks up its mail in the Mile Square City, just as always, gathering nearly every day (when they're not working elsewhere) at a homey practice space overflowing with gear and ephemera. Depending on how one counts singles, EP, anthologies, soundtracks and collaborations, Stuff Like That There is (maybe) the 14th proper Yo La Tengo album. Not even they seem to be sure. We visited Hoboken and heard the story of Yo La Tengo in 15 easy steps.

In This Article: Yo La Tengo


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