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Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo

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Album Review

Making their debut in 1985 with a 45 that paired the group's own "The River of Water" with a take on Love's "A House Is Not a Motel," Yo La Tengo established their love of both the single format and the eclectic cover version from the get-go. Subsequent years produced a steady stream of between-album releases, tour-only singles, compilation appearances, and, of course, more memorable covers. Beginning in 1988, with the group on the cusp of unleashing their President Yo La Tengo album, Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo gathers 30 rarities, selected and annotated by the band itself, and divided into vocal and instrumental discs. John Cale's "Hanky Panky Nohow," the Velvet Underground's "I'm Set Free," and Beat Happening's "Cast a Shadow" are all spared by fairly faithful renditions. Elsewhere the group infuse Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" with new, anthemic life, play the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" as a surf instrumental, find themselves joined by a phoned-in Daniel Johnston for a radio performance of the singer's "Speeding Motorcycle," and nearly lose the reigns on a blistering live-in-studio version of Wire's "Too Late." Housed on the vocal disc are a handful of originals that rival the band's official output. "Evanescent Psychic Pez Drop" rides a motorik drum beat and organ drone, fractured by Ira Kaplan's splintering guitar. Georgia Hubley takes the lead on the dreamy "Demons" (whose working title, the band admits, was "White Rabbit") and the trio sets its sound adrift on the languid "Up to You," a song that would have fit comfortably on the stunning And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out six years later. Though the instrumental disc isn't nearly as impressive (comprised largely of failed experiments and song sketches), it's still well worth looking beyond YLT's studio albums for the hidden gems packaged here.


Formed: 1984 in Hoboken, NJ

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Yo La Tengo are in many respects the quintessential critics' band: in addition to their adventurous eclecticism, defiant independence, and restless creative ambition -- three qualities that virtually guarantee music press acclaim -- the group's frontman, Ira Kaplan, even tenured as a rock scribe prior to finding success as a performer. So frequently compared to the Velvet Underground that they even portrayed the legendary group in the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, the Hoboken, New Jersey-based Yo...
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