YO LA TENGO at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (February 9), doors 8 pm, $25. HS, RT, SS, TF, TM.
Yo La Tengo are often dubbed "the quintessential critics' band." But they're also notoriously private, shying away from a press corps obsessed with pontificating about their almost 30-year career. So while critics busy themselves comparing the band's fantastic 13th album, Fade (Matador), to the intimate pop moments on 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and attempting to define its themes (maturity, aging), the band prefers to stay out of the conversation.
"I think a listener would do more comparing, weighing and evaluating [than we would]," says guitarist/singer Ira Kaplan over the telephone from a hotel room in St. Louis, Missouri. "We just treat each album as its own thing and don't spend too much time putting it into a timeline."
Fade glistens with circular guitar riffs, subtle orchestral moments, James McNew's beating bass lines and beautiful vocal melodies by Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley. Produced by Tortoise's John McEntire rather than long-time YLT producer Roger Moutenot, it's surprisingly devoid of the band's trademark wild, noisy guitar blasts, and even sees Kaplan sometimes trade in his electric guitar for an acoustic.
"We're not necessarily trying to do things different [on every album]," says Kaplan. "But there is an extent to which it's intentional."
He recalls recording the song Moby Octopad from 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and changing a feedback solo to an abrupt piano section because, for them, that was more surprising. On Fade, Kaplan says, I'll Be Around was a premeditated departure from guitar-driven songwriting, a tender ballad with folky, plucky riffs.
And although the New Jersey trio aren't slowing down any time soon - between touring the new record, they're also performing a live soundtrack to Sam Green's documentary on American architect Buckminster Fuller in New York - if they do retire, they could have a second life as a wedding band, no insult intended. After all, their repertoire of cover songs is deep and legendary, and last fall they performed at comedian David Cross and actor Amber Tamblyn's wedding.
Kaplan isn't so sure.
"We would be a commercial flop," Kaplan says, "because, although we've done it, we've never actually been paid for it. It wouldn't be too lucrative a career the way we're currently pursuing it."