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Simple Indie Gold

Like most modern indie bands with a 30-year discography, a tendency to genre-bend and a mountain of critical acclaim, you’d think Yo La Tengo was too complex to fall for in an instant, but I did.

A living, breathing cliché of a 16-year-old, I rolled down the windows in the backseat of my cool older friend’s SUV. It was the suburban Midwest, and this strange, cheery, cowbell-dotted song came on the mix CD: “Hey, Mr. Tough/ Don’t you think we’ve suffered enough/ Why don’t you meet me on the dance floor/ When it’s time to talk tough.”

“Mr. Tough” was something I could dance to that was also sad. 

“We all started making music as kids,” Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew tells EW. He describes his musical coming-of-age as mostly messing around, “playing along to records and learning covers, for ages before we even considered writing our own songs.” 

Even now, YLT keeps up an extensive repertoire of covers, which, like its originals, vary in style from Fleetwood Mac to Sun Ra to Daniel Johnston. This, McNew says, is “just a part of who we are and how we think about music.” 

In fact, the band’s amassed such a body of work they’re even (in a most humble way) paying homage to themselves. The new full-length release, Stuff Like That There, is a collection of brushed-cymbal, upright bass-type afternoon tunes meant to recall YLT’s now classic 1990 LP Fakebook.

McNew, when asked about his inspirations, says he’s listening to Bronx-based hip-hop producer Lord Finesse, who is “currently influencing me to feel great.” This sentiment is the common thread running through the diverse YLT discography: The band does what feels right to them, and the results are at once sophisticated and simple.

Catch Yo La Tengo’s new acoustic tour featuring Dave Schramm 8 pm Tuesday, Nov. 17, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door.