Hoboken bred, husband and wife founded, indie-rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo are principally renowned for two things… Firstly for being this generation’s answer to The Velvet Underground (a comparison that they’ve never really made too much effort to shy away from) and secondly for being the quintessential critics’ band. If they’d have split up and reformed there would have been a huge clatter of attention, akin to the Guided by Voices or Pixiesreunions. But Yo La Tengo, ever the blue-collar mainstayers, have instead kept their heads down and consistently put out solid album after album of noise drenched melodic pop for nigh on thirty years.
‘Fade’ is the band’s thirteenth album and represents a culmination of the relative experimentalism of recent albums whilst also signaling a return to the more plaintive and personal tone of the landmark 2000 release ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out’. It also represents a certain disruption in the natural order being the first album in twenty years not produced by Roger Moutenot, instead transferring the button duties to Tortoise’s John McEntire who brings a jazz-tinged soulfulness to the table. This is not to say their sound has dramatically changed – it hasn’t, if anything it is now more focused and direct.
Opener ‘Ohm’ is a propulsive juggernaut, providing enough rhythmical bedding for shards ofIra Kaplan’s frenzied guitar feedback as the band coo “nothing ever stays the same, nothing’s explained” in unison. It’s a firm statement of intent and the sort of song they’d have previously worked into a 15 minute album closing freak-out. Despite clocking in at six minutes the impact hasn’t been dampened; rather it benefits from the confident restraint at play. The string laden ‘Is That Enough’ is infectiously melodic whilst ‘Well You Better’ is a 60s pop facsimile very much in the Belle & Sebastian vein. Both tracks offer an upbeat curve before the krautrock tinged ‘Stupid Things’ evokes a more reflective mood.
‘I’ll Be Around’, a raw and tender acoustic folk ballad, sees Kaplan mournfully intone “when I stare into space I’m looking for you… and I can see you at times”. It serves as something of an emotional fulcrum to the album, and a perfect epitome of how effective stark simplicity can be. ‘Corneila and Jane’ is a fittingly bittersweet counterpoint as Georgia Hubley provides delicate vocal harmonies over cushions of whispered horns. It manages to be both comforting and utterly heartbreaking. The Hubley fronted album closer ‘Before We Run’ builds around a circular crescendo of horns and strings as Kaplan pleas “Speak to me in words we can’t erase, take me where it’s only us”. It is at once of the band’s most poignant, intimate and assured statements to date.
Yo La Tengo have not only released the first great album of 2013 but have also crafted their finest and most cohesive album in over a decade. This is no small feat given their status as the guardians of the indie-rock mantle. They’ve always modestly accepted this lot, but ‘Fade’ is evidence (if it were needed) that, despite such humility, Yo La Tengo are one of the true great bands of any generation.
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