Ride The Tiger - (1986)
Anyone who encountered Yo La Tengo's first album, Ride the Tiger, upon its original release in 1986 can be forgiven if they didn't immediately recognize that the band would become one of the most consistently interesting American acts of the next 15 years. Yo La Tengo's debut is a decidedly modest affair, and Ira Kaplan often sounds as if he's still finding his feet as a singer and guitarist, though Dave Schramm does more than his share to take up the slack (in his liner essay for the 1993 reissue of Ride the Tiger, Kaplan went so far as to write that "Dave's guitar playing is inarguably the best thing about the record"). However, Kaplan already knew where he was going as a songwriter, as "The Cone of Silence," "The Forest Green," and "The Pain of Pain" make clear, and if the group's bracing blend of tuneful eclecticism and creatively applied noise was still gestating, Kaplan's lovely melodic sense and the haunting blend of his reedy tenor and Georgia Hubley's slightly fragile soprano marked Yo La Tengo as a band with real potential. Clint Conley made a rare post-Mission of Burma appearance on Ride the Tiger as producer (he also takes over from bassist Mike Lewis for three cuts), and he had the smarts not to impose a Vs.-style hard guitar sound on the band, instead making the most of the band's roomy jangle and giving the sound plenty of body when it needs it. Ride the Tiger is Yo La Tengo's juvenilia, and they'd create much stronger work a few years down the line, but on its own terms, it's an intelligent and engaging set, and any band that can cover the Kinks and Pete Seeger on the same album and make them both work must be doing something right.