Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (1997)
After a few albums showing steadily increasing chops, Yo La Tengo exploded in the mid-90s with a series of stunning albums that essentially defined indie rock for me, while also becoming a can't-miss live act. 1993's Painful and 1995's Electr-O-Pura were both great, diverse albums that alternated quiet, atmospheric ballads (often featuring hushed vocals by drummer Georgia Hubley) with wild guitar freakouts fronted by her husband Ira Kaplan. A few tracks managed to bridge both sonic extremes. 1997's I Can Hear The Heart... followed the same formula, but by this point they had pretty much mastered it.
The first half of the album is a stunning march through the band's stylistic range. You get the psychedelic groove of "Moby Octopad," the noisy power-pop of "Sugarcube," the gorgeous atmospheric balladry of "Damage," the dense, layered sonic assault of "Deeper Into Movies," all in rapid-fire succession. Elsewhere there are pleasant acoustic ballads like "Shadows," "Center of Gravity" and "My Little Corner of the World," gentle electronica like "Autumn Sweater," feedback workouts like "Spec Bebop," and beautiful mellow grooves like the absolutely breathtaking "The Lie And How We Told It." If anything, the album is a little too tightly packed; it could benefit from a little paring down, but it's easy enough to use the skip button to re-sequence the album to satisfy your own personal preferences.
While the subsequent 20 years have had a few more ups and downs, they continue to be a reliable recording act (and a few albums, like 2006's I Am Not Afraid Of You And Will Beat Your Ass, are every bit as wonderful as their 90s peak).
Here, for "Sugarcube," is one of the most entertaining videos ever filmed (featuring Bob Odenkirk and David Cross):
Here's a live take on their "Little Honda" cover:
Also, what the hell, this deliriously over the top instrumental ("And The Glitter Is Gone") is NOT on I Can Hear The Heart..., but this clip is so insanely wonderful I have to share it:
Buy it on Amazon.