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Music / Yo La Tengo

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L-R: Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew. None of them surf.
Yo La Tengo is a Long Running Alternative Rock band from Hoboken, New Jersey. Founded in 1984 by former music reviewer Ira Kaplan (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and his wife Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals), they went though a series of bassists before settling on James McNew (bass, keyboards, occasional vocals). They've achieved almost no commercial success, but have become a touchstone of indie-rock nerds everywhere thanks to their large back catalogue, consistent output, and endearing songcraft, which is based on a beguiling mix of Kinks-esque pop-rock, Velvet Underground balladry, and Sonic Youth squall and fuzz. The latter helped popularise them in The '90s, to the point that they toured with My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. in 1992.


  • Ride the Tiger (1986)
  • New Wave Hot Dogs (1987)
  • President Yo La Tengo (1989)
  • Fakebook (1990)
  • May I Sing With Me (1992)
  • Painful (1993)
  • Electr-O-Pura (1995)
  • I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997)
  • And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000)
  • Summer Sun (2003)
  • I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006)
  • Popular Songs (2009)
  • Fade (2013)
  • Stuff Like That There (2015)
  • There's a Riot Going On (2018)
  • We Have Amnesia Sometimes (2020)
  • This Stupid World (2023)

This band provides examples of:

  • The Big Guy: James. He towers over Ira and Georgia.
  • Boléro Effect: Inverted. "Night Falls on Hoboken" starts as a nice ballad and slowly becomes more quiet and vague and less song-like over the course of its 17 minute runtime.
  • Christmas Episode: Subverted; for years, Yo La Tengo celebrated the holidays by playing an eight days of Hanukkah residency at Maxwell's a local bar in Hoboken, before moving to New York City following Maxwell's closure.
  • Concept Album: Painful and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, both about a troubled relationships.
  • Cover Version: At least one on every album, plus three albums consisting mostly of covers: Fakebook, Fuckbook and Stuff Like That There. The band's renowned encyclopedic repertoire led to annual fundraising visits to independent radio station WFMU, during which listeners who pledged money could request a song of their choice for Yo La Tengo to attempt to play on the spot; some of these attempts, from "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" to "The Hokey Pokey" are documented in the compilation Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The video for their cover of "Friday I'm In Love", which features Georgia Hubley casually strolling through town while drawing down the apocalypse in the form of giant hearts crushing people to Ludicrous Gibs.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • Extended noise jams typically at or near the end of an album such as "The Evil That Men Do (Pablo's Version)", "Blue Line Swinger", "Spec Bebop", "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind", "Night Falls On Hoboken" and "The Story of Yo La Tango" are common.
    • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Blue Line Swinger". "The Story of Yo La Tango" as well, since the vocal starts about 3:50 in.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin:
    • "Sudden Organ" begins with a rather, well, sudden organ riff.
    • "86-Second Blowout" is exactly 1 minute and 26 seconds.
  • Fake Band:
    • On Fuckbook, a cover album of old Garage Rock songs, the band is credited as The Condo Fucks, complete with a made-up history of the band.
    • They also appeared on Parks and Recreation as the cover band Bobby Knight Ranger.
  • Genre Roulette: A lot of albums, most notably I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Their name. It's apparently a very obscure baseball Shout-Out.
  • Happily Married: Georgia and Ira. Averted in the case of the married couples in most of their songs.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: On We Have Amnesia Sometimes, every song title is a sentence in the present tense about one or more band members, followed by the day of the week the song was recorded in parentheses - for instance, "James and Ira demonstrate mysticism and some confusion holds (Monday)".
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Fuckbook, I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
  • Kids Rock: Their cover of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" features a positively ecstatic choir of adorable little children gleefully yelling the chorus:
    It's a motherfucker, don't you know!
    When they push that button, yo' ass gotta go!
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out closes with "Night Falls Over Hoboken" (17:42).
  • Long-Runners: They recently celebrated 30 years in the business, and have had the same line-up since 1992.
  • Joisey: They're from there, but they don't really fit the stereotype.
  • New Sound Album: Several. Painful introduced a lot more guitar noise into the mix, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out featured slower tempos and drum machines, and I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass featured strings and horns much prominently than previous albums.
  • Performance Video: Usually subverted; "Sugarcube" has them try to do this only for their record company to send them to rock school to learn how to be proper rock stars, "Tom Courtenay" is an Imagine Spot of what it would be like to open for The Beatles, and "Nothing To Hide" has the band Times New Viking lipsync to the song instead.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: All the band members have this.
  • Pop-Star Composer: They've done soundtracks for several indie films, most notably Adventureland. Most are represented on the compilation album They Shoot, We Score.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: All of the songs on the album Strange But True, recorded together with Jad Fair of Half Japanese, are based on tabloid headlines such as "National Sports Association Hires Retired English Professor to Name New Wrestling Holds", "Ohio Town Saved from Killer Bees by Hungry Vampire Bats" and "Retired Grocer Constructs Tiny Mount Rushmore Entirely of Cheese".
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: Ira could very well be the Quentin Tarantino of rock and retro pop given his astounding knowledge of it.
  • Rearrange the Song: They occasionally re-record older songs in new versions, especially on Fakebook and Stuff Like That There.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: "The Story Of Yo La Tango", which is titled that way as a joke about their name frequently being misspelled. This in turn led to people getting the title wrong by correcting the spelling.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: "Stockholm Syndrome"
  • Three Chords and the Truth: They have their tendencies toward this.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Big Day Coming" on Painful, opening the album as a slow ethereal ballad, and then reappearing as a noisy rocker towards the end.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Mr. Tough
  • Vocal Tag Team: Lead vocal duties are mostly split between, Georgia and Ira, with James getting the occasional song.