The Format, an Arizona-based pop collective centered around vocalist Nate Ruess and multi-instrumentalist Sam Means is a misunderstood band, even by people who seek to profit from them. In 2005, Atlantic dropped the duo after they delivered their sophomore album, “Dog Problems,” saying it wasn’t the kind of pop they expected. Meanwhile, their agent kept booking them gigs opening for emo acts.
Last year, Ruess and Means released “Dog Problems” by themselves, and anyone with an eardrum can tell it has nothing to do with emo, and everything to do with the kind of pop that used to swamp FM radio waves sometime between the twilight of Harry Nilsson and the advent of ELO. Ruess has one of those natural boy-tenor voices that can handle both sappy love ditties and soaring Eric Carmen yowls. The songs’ piquant melodies and chiseled arrangements stand up to horns, handclaps and other filigree Means throws in the mix. Though reportedly a breakup album, “Dog Problems” is one frisky puppy.
By comparison, the venerable indie institution Yo La Tengo, from Hoboken, New Jersey, is a faithful old mutt. Critics complained that their 2003 album “Summer Sun” indicated approaching middle-age insignificance, which is probably why they titled their new album, “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.” Whether or not leader Ira Kaplan reads his reviews, “Beat Your Ass” is best approached as a renewed statement of purpose. He has never sounded more like a guitar god, and the songwriting revives his wide-eyed awe at the full range of possibilities available to a working band who loves all aspects of pop — and not just the ones that are hip at the moment. What’s more, it’s the first YLT album that sounds deliberately produced rather than merely recorded and tweaked. I’ll bet it’s great on stage.