Over those last few records (1993's Painful, 1995's Electr-O-Pura, and 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One) bassist James McNew, guitarist-singer Ira Kaplan, and his wife, drummer-singer Georgia Hubley, began to moderate their Sonic Youth-y squalls with airy pedal-steel passages and affecting late-night melancholy. They've gone straight for the heartstrings on And Then Nothing, relegating rock to one sexy, explosive track, "Cherry Chapstick," and letting the rest provide a perfect accompaniment to a late afternoon's slide into evening. "Everyday" begins the album with barely detectable pulse, giving way the delicate innuendo of "Our Way to Fall" and the spare, shimmering "Last Days of Disco," which strips Kaplan emotionally bare as he recounts his awkward first dates with Hubley. Examining the current ups and downs of their relationship on "The Crying of Lot G," he's crafted the most personal Yo La Tengo music to date.
During its finest hour and ten minutes, the band interestingly invites comparisons to a few of its contemporaries other than Sonic Youth: "Everyday" might be mistaken for a latter-day Low song, while the percolating "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" could easily sub for Stereolab. Interesting cover: The fun-filled syncopation of KC and the Sunshine Band's disco classic "You Can Have It All." Then there's the enervated heartache of Hubley's "Tears Are in Your Eyes," maybe the weepiest song Yo La Tengo (or anyone else) has ever put to plastic. But even instrumental tracks like "Tired Hippo" -- which hooks the keyboard riff from Traffic's "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and slaps a creepy echo on top -- overflow with mood. The 17-minute closer, "Night Falls on Hoboken," is a meandering paean not only to the group's hometown (and the birthplace of Frank Sinatra) but to the drone of the Velvet Underground. Though long-winded, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out is the off-the-cuff masterpiece Yo La Tengo has been working toward for years. It's hard to imagine a nothing prettier than this.