Yo La Tengo, "Popular Songs"
Following the scattershot pop of 2006's "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass," Hoboken, N.J.-based indie rock act Yo La Tengo returns with a more focused collection full of lush instrumentation and bittersweet lyrics. "Popular Songs" offers nine darkly catchy tracks that recall the band's late-'90s output before shifting gears; the remaining three songs get more experimental. Luckily, the first half's shorter songs (like the guitar rave-up "Nothing to Hide") and the last quarter's winding compositions (the nearly wordless 11-minute beauty "The Fireside") are both pulled off expertly. "If It's True," the album's standout track featuring a throwback string section and duet between group members Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan, showcases the band's understanding of a great pop structure. Yo La Tengo has little to prove at this point in its 20-year career, but its dedication to expanding its sound without obscuring its songwriting formula remains impressive.-Jason Lipshutz