Yo La Tengo's latest album neatly falls into two halves: the tightly woven first nine songs, and the three endlessly mesmerizing jams that stretch across the album's final 37 minutes.
Those indulgent, mostly instrumental epics could form a mini-album of their own—but rather than seeming tacked on, they're pure headphone escapism, and some of the most beautiful, cogent music the band has made.
"More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" is nine minutes of dreamy shoegaze; "The Fireside" is 11 minutes of an unhurried, hypnotically twisting acoustic guitar; and album closer "And the Glitter Is Gone" is 16 minutes of noisy, buzzing guitar freak-out.
Elsewhere, Popular Songs proves the band's talent and flexibility, leaping from fuzzy guitar attacks to throwback sunshine pop to languid, spooky trance, mixing strings and keyboards into their classic guitar-bass-drums combo.
"Nothing to Hide" is a sweet, fuzzy and catchy sequel to the trio's 1997 near-hit "Sugarcube," while "If It's True" finds Yo La Tengo cozying up in between Motown and 1960s boy-girl pop, and "Periodically Double or Triple" takes its funky bassline and flighty organ from 1970s soul.
Opener "Here to Fall" begins with an echoing, discordant guitar and has Ira Kaplan singing about what it means to fall in love and face together all of life's happy endings and failed dreams, hope and dread, worry and readiness.
Popular Songs showcases Yo La Tengo as a self-assured and versatile band, still able to pack a worried disorientation into the catchiest of pop songs.