Yo La Tengo

New Wave Hot Dogs

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Ira Kaplan once described the first lineup of Yo La Tengo as "a band of timid folk-rockers," but the departure of guitarist Dave Schramm forced Kaplan to develop a stronger backbone, and he certainly put it to splendid use on the group's second album, New Wave Hot Dogs. The opener, a snappy dose of up-tempo angst called "Clunk," was decidedly more aggressive than anything on YLT's debut, Ride the Tiger, and if Kaplan hadn't exactly become an expert guitarist (in the purist's sense, he never would), his enthusiastic bashing and joyous embrace of feedback gave the song a passionate edge much of his earlier work had lacked, and his vocal displayed the fire and conviction of a true rock & roller. While New Wave Hot Dogs moves back and forth between skronk-friendly rockers and quieter, more poppy material (including a lovely cover of the Velvet Underground's then-unreleased "It's Alright [The Way That You Live]"), the band sounds firmer and more assured throughout the disc (even though the band was already on their third bassist by this time), and the songs showed Kaplan was coming into his own as a songwriter, with a gift for stick-in-the-ear melodies (both upbeat and contemplative) and witty lyrical conceits (how many albums can get laughs by listing America's greatest hits and name-checking Steve Albini?). Yo La Tengo hadn't reached full musical maturity on New Wave Hot Dogs, but it was a quantum leap over the sound of their debut, and set the stage for the music that would make them one of the most satisfying American bands of their time. (New Wave Hot Dogs is available on CD in tandem with the later EP President Yo La Tengo.)

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