Veteran indie rockers give another solid release with more focus on broad compositions than subtle atmospheres.
Indie rock powerhouses Yo La Tengo have a very specific sound that spans a fairly wide range of styles. Releases like Electr-O-Pura are a close kin of shoegaze, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass have more defined noise rock elements, and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out is downtempo rock with meticulously-crafted soundscapes. However, though the band can easily transition between any of these styles, they still have such a distinct sound that they stand out in a line up of any other indie rock act. Something about the chemistry between Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s soft vocals and Ira’s occasional guitar freak-outs combined with James McNew’s laidback bass grooves and the group’s refracted, noisy interpretation of sunny 60s pop just sticks out as singular.
Their 13th studio album Fade continues in this longstanding tradition to an impressive effect. It is almost inspiring how a band with such a large discography can still churn out a lead single as affectionate and catchy as “Ohm”, which achieves earworm status as Ira stretches his voice while musing that “this is it for all we know / so say goodnight to me”, almost as a nod to their dependable sound they’ve defined over all these years. “Is That Enough” fleshes out the instrumentation of the album further with a lovely string arrangement atop Ira and Georgia’s muted harmonizing. Strings make another key appearance in “Stupid Things”, as they help the track crescendo from a lonely guitar to an ethereal midtempo jam. “Cornelia and Jane” sounds like quintessential Yo La Tengo as Georgia sweetly fronts a liquid electric guitar soaring above subdued horns. Finally, the album closes with “Before We Run”, a track that seems to drive towards some sonic destination with as much a sense of urgency as such a mellow album can allow.
The general motif of the writing seems to me a focus on fleshing out tracks with wider instrumentation and broader, more sweeping movements rather than an attention to detail with subtle, fleeting musical elements that contribute to celestial atmospheres. The production on the album is finely detailed, and each track has subtleties mixed deeply within the sound, yet it feels as if even these elements serve to make the tracks flow more fluidly from A to B rather than to explore the nooks and corners of an aural moment. While this is done to a great effect, I must be honest and say that I enjoy Yo La Tengo most when they are willing to meander around a single beat or motif and really try to contextualize the sound completely with atmospheric sounds that don’t contribute to any melody (for this reason And Then Nothing… is my favorite album of theirs, with “Saturday” epitomizing the approach to songwriting I am talking about). Despite this, Fade still succeeds at these broader compositions, and makes a great addition to an already stellar discography.