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Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo's decade of material has been an anomaly in the rock world -- music that actually gets stronger, more refined, more precise, with each record. Ever since the Hoboken, N.J., band quit acting like they were the Velvet Underground thrust 20 years forward, the results have been fantastic. Painful, released in 1992, is stylistically confident and emotionally devastating, while 1995's Electr-O-Pura established the band as consummate humanists with a fine ear.

The newest long-player, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, is brilliant for its appeal to both snobs and casual listeners. Rockist prigs can knowingly elbow the cover of the Hondells' "Little Honda" while the rest of us sing along. There are even finer moments. The composition of "Moby Octopad," with a piano riff that walks into the song halfway through and then becomes its center, is ingenious, not clever. And the percussive rattles that play off the thick organ-and-bass break on "Autumn Sweater" work as both emphasis and drive. Lyrically, YLT are at their finest with the means-something-to-me words on bassist James McNew's sunny "Shadows": "Tired of aching/ Summer's what you make it/ And I'll believe what I want to believe." I can't know the writer's intention, but it sounds fantastic on a car stereo.

Live, the trio lack theatrics or even animation, but give total attention to sound, texture, and flow. Ira Kaplan gets carried away on guitar, peeling off notes like stubborn Band-Aids; McNew busies himself with simultaneous bass and organ; and Georgia Hubley plays drums with either a swirling pitch or a straight-ahead midtempo drive. And Yo La Tengo reward close listeners with an unmatched selection of covers and variants on old songs. With 10 years of material, there's plenty to hear.

-- Jeff Stark

Yo La Tengo play Monday, June 9, at 9 p.m. at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell. Barbara Manning opens. Tickets are $9 in advance and $10 at the door; call 885-0750. Yo La Tengo also play Tuesday, June 10 (with Manning again), at 10 p.m. at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. Tickets are $10; call 621-4455.

 
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