Yo La Tengo: May I Sing With Me (1992)
Their early albums were perfectly solid college radio guitar rock; sophomore LP New Wave Hot Dogs featured some great songs ("A Shy Dog," "Clunk," "3 Blocks from Groove Street") and started to demonstrate Ira Kaplan's skill as a guitarist, while the follow-up, President Yo La Tengo (more a mini-LP), showed still further growth with the sonically rich "Barnaby, Hardly Working" and the angsty anthem "Drug Test." (1990's Fakebook, mostly acoustic covers, is great, but more a side trip.)
But May I Sing was a huge step forward, with all the benchmarks that would launch them into indie rock royalty in the 90s and beyond. You've got the modest yet ultimately rousing, slow-building opener "Detouring America With Horns." You've got the can't-believe-this-wasn't-a-hit power pop single ("Upside-Down") and the garage-rocking (yet still catchy) stomp ("Out The Window"). You've got the tender ballads showcasing the sweetly hushed vocals of drummer Georgia Hubley ("Satellite") and the band's intertwined harmonies ("Always Something"). But mostly you've got a number of songs with Kaplan constructing atmospheric guitar jams around infectious riffs that explode into post-Velvety frenzies, like "Swing for Life" and the wonderful "Five-Cornered Drone."
The following year's Painful would expand on all of these motifs (and Electro would perfect them), but the formula was all here, great songs that, at least for me, converted YLT from a pretty cool band to one of my favorite acts of the last 30 years.
Here's the video for "Upside-Down":