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These days Yo La Tengo are so often described as 'stalwarts' that it's difficult to imagine them starting out. It's also hard to believe that this is the first album of theirs to be given the deluxe treatment; there can surely be fewer bands more deserving of some retrospective praise.

This year sees the 30th anniversary of the Yo La Tengo's formation; but 1993's Painful, their first for a major label (Matador, with whom they have remained for over twenty years) seems to be the point at which it all came together, where they began carving out a signature sound - as Ira Kaplan says: "I think this group really started when we made Painful... anything from before then is really, really different to me." It was actually the band's sixth record; the previous five included the exemplary New Wave Hot Dogs from 1987, and Fakebook (1990), which was the first showcase for the band's encyclopaedic archive of cover versions. Up until that point, the band had gathered a dedicated following and were consistently well reviewed; expectations for their first major label outing were high.

The first record to feature Yo La's lineup as it is today - Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew - Painful saw a shift towards a more melodic sound for a band more famed for their noise workouts. Not that you'd know it from the first two tracks; 'Big Day Coming' is hushed and repetitive for seven minutes, before 'From A Motel 6' bursts in with a sound not unlike a revving snowmobile (an image which aptly featured on the single's artwork).

The real indication of a sonic shift arrives with 'Nowhere Near', whose tender melody can now be seen as the beginning of a sound fully explored in later work like Summer Sun (2003). That song, and other quieter moments such as 'The Whole of the Law' - an exquisite version of The Only Ones' original - mark Painful out as the moment that Yo La Tengo began to mature into the band we know them as today. But the true gem on this record lies right at the end. 'I Heard You Looking' is considered by many (including yours truly) as one of the band's very best songs: a seven-minute instrumental built on such a simple and unforgettable riff that you wonder why more 'jam' bands don't work like this. Then you remember that there aren't many other bands like Yo La Tengo.

The picks of an excellent bonus disc are a delightfully tender demo version of 'Nowhere Near' and the stand-alone single 'Shaker' along with its B-side, a version of Richard Thompson's 'For Shame of Doing Wrong'. 'Shaker', all churn and growl, is worth is the admission price alone, having previously only been available on the 2003 compilation Prisoners of Love. Paired with the graceful slide guitars of 'For Shame...' the Shaker 7" provides a useful microcosm of the band's duality. Unlike so many reissues of late, the out-takes and demos on Painful genuinely do give an insight into how the record was made, how the band honed their sound and what direction they were headed.

Yo La Tengo would go on to make better albums - not least the twin classics I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997) and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000). But if you've never heard Painful before, I would advise doing so as soon as possible, because it is wonderful. And here's hoping this is the start of a more extensive trawl through Yo La Tengo's archives; I get the feeling there is more treasure to come.

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