Yo La Tengo
Jazz critic Whitney Balliett once described jazz as "the sound of surprise." While Yo La Tengo don't play jazz, the description applies. For 13 years they have been a remarkably consistent, almost comforting presence on the American pop scene, yet we love their genius because they are not afraid to surprise us. New York magazine calls them "the most dearly treasured New York rock band of the decade," but Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan have always lived across the river in Hoboken. Their recording site of preference in recent years is Nashville, but they're not a country band. Their songs are smashed into sharp relief with seemingly disparate elements, but always emerge a beautiful, somehow coherent mess.
Yo La Tengo is not a jazz combo, but they think like jazz musicians. They constantly redefine their own boundaries, stretch their songs into new shapes, and often restructure their old songs into new forms. As rabid fans of music, Yo La Tengo choose from a wildly diverse selection of covers (Richard Thompson, Wire, John Cale, The Dead C, The Normal, Flamin' Groovies, and the Kinks comprise a small sampling) and make the songs their own, much like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry deconstructing "Embraceable You." Like most great artists, they never regurgitate derivatively, synthesizing influences into music that only sounds like Yo La Tengo.