By now, no Yo La Tengo album sounds remarkable on first listen, or it sounds remarkable in that it sounds like other Yo La Tengo albums. In the car, though, when it's easier to separate songs from the general flow of the album, it's easier to hear and appreciate that it sounds like other Yo La Tengo albums because the songs are really good.
What I hear on the new Popular Songs more than anything else, though, is how they've mastered sounding like us if we were in bands. Put us behind a microphone and we'd half-whisper/half-mumble lyrics, uncertain of our ability to truly carry a tune. We'd hit the drums gently, disconcerted by how loud they are, but when we found a good riff that we were confident in, we'd play that guitar riff as loudly as we could. When we finally wrote a classic pop song with a strong melody, we'd sing it proudly. The first time we discovered that we could play soul music, we'd treat it as a goof in case others didn't think we could play it as well as we did. The next time we cut a soul track, we'd know we didn't have to treat it as a joke; that we could do this and would do it well.
We're music fans first, so we'd likely make music that would reflect the breadth of our tastes - or at least to the degree that we could figure out how to play them. We'd play music that was fun - garage band particularly - and if we were guitar players, we'd occasionally the physical pleasure of trying to shape feedback and distortion, trying to control something that's largely uncontrollable (and something that sounds really cool).
We're not conceptualists, so instead of working up a master plan, we'd play the songs we had and go from there. We'd figure the album's like a meal or a home movie or a summer picnic - there will be another one, and it will be fun too.