Yo La Tengo performing at an A.V. Club Undercover

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in keeping with the site’s 1995-centric theme, we’re talking about songs from that year.

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Yo La Tengo, “Blue Line Swinger” (1995)

Although Yo La Tengo began in 1984, the band hit its stride in the ’90s, releasing a string of albums that have gone down as important components of the indie-rock canon: 1993’s Painful, 1995’s Electr-O-Pura, and 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. The last one might offer the best entry point to the band’s extensive discography, but Electr-O-Pura boasts Yo La Tengo’s best epic song, the nine-plus-minute “Blue Line Swinger.” The trio has never felt apprehensive about going long; 1989’s President Yo La Tengo had one track that stretched past 10 and a half minutes, 1992’s May I Sing With Me has one that goes beyond nine minutes, and Painful had two songs that surpassed seven minutes. Yo La Tengo hasn’t stepped away from that—2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass opened with a song that went nearly 11 minutes, and 2009’s Popular Songs closed with a 15-minute track.

Not all of them cohere like “Blue Line Swinger.” A simple organ progression anchors the song as the rest of the band joins in, opening with drummer-vocalist Georgia Hubley playing fill beats and Ira Kaplan’s guitar swirling in feedback. Eventually the disparate elements join together—along with James McNew’s bass—into a propulsive rock song, albeit one without anything resembling a chorus or hook. Kaplan’s guitar sounds like it could come loose from the rest of the band at any moment, a mixture of melody and impressively controlled squalls of feedback. “Blue Line Swinger” eventually crescendos with Hubley’s girl-group vocalizing—“Ba da ba ba-dop, ba da ba ba-dop, ba da ba ba-dop”—and the rest of the band red-lining in the best possible way.

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Unsurprisingly, “Blue Line Swinger” is the perfect set-closer, and it has remained in the band’s live shows for two decades. With good reason: It may be Yo La Tengo’s finest moment.

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