nedjelja, 9. prosinca 2012.

Yo La Tengo - Fade (2013)


O maj god!!!!!!!!!!!!!


On Tuesday, January 15  (Monday, January 14 in Europe), we’ll be releasing ‘Fade’, the new studio album from  Yo La Tengo. Recorded with John McEntire at Soma Studios Electronic Studios in Chicago, ‘Fade’ is reminiscent of landmarks like 1997‘s ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’ and 2000’s ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out’,  but there’s no shortage of moments that stand far apart from anything the trio have done previously. The 10 song collection, arguably the most focused and cohesive output from Ira, Georgia and James to date, is  a tapestry of fine melody and elegant noise, rhythmic shadowplay and shy-eyed orchestral beauty, songcraft and experimentation.
‘Fade”s lyrical themes of aging, tragedy and emotional bonds are woven into a fully-realized whole ; the results are direct, personal and more than a little uplifting.  If it’s frustrating for us to hint at an album this evocative and heartbreaking without giving you something to check out in advance, check this space tomorrow at around 10am eastern time. -

Such has been the lengthy trajectory of Yo La Tengo that it beggars belief that they haven't succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. The recent brouhaha surrounding David Bowie's return from the artistic wilderness shrouded a period of his life when his artistic output flew by on autopilot with scant regard for quality control. The inescapable fact is that pretty much most artists of a certain vintage will eventually take an artistic dip where certain albums, looks and over-cooked tours will be swept under the carpet or tucked behind the sofa like so much bad porn before the arrival of one's parents for lunch. Yet here are Yo La Tengo, just 12 months or so shy of their 30th anniversary, and they remain one of the very few bands who've managed to escape that 'Best album since [insert classic from 20 years ago here]' tagOne element to the secret of their success is that Yo La Tengo are the kind of band who approach music from the perspective of a fan first rather than that of a musician coming to grips with his or her choice of sonic arsenal. You could, of course, spend hours playing spot-the-influence but the group has always possessed enough smarts to inject plenty of their own personality and ideas to ensure that their music is more than a simple homage to their undoubtedly vast record collection.
So it is with Fade, an album that makes a bold and convincing claim at being Yo La Tengo's most streamlined to date. The epic explorations of melody, mood and noise that frequently extended beyond the 10-minute mark (and, on occasion, combined to take up over half the running time of previous efforts when stacked up against shorter tracks) have been jettisoned in favour of more concise pieces of music. The result is album swathed in a cotton wool loveliness that plays to the band's strengths.
But this is an album worth examining beyond its surface sheen. As displayed on opener, 'Ohm', its shuffling beats, jangling guitars and incrementally rising levels of noise and distortion are also rooted in a contemporary reality as Ira Kaplan intones, "Sometimes the bad guys are right on top/Sometimes the good guys lose/We try not to lose our hearts, not lose our minds…" There's a comfort to be had knowing that for all their reputation as being the ultimate anorak band only too happy to discuss obscure b-sides or long deleted 45s, Yo La Tengo are rooted in the same reality as the rest of us.
Elsewhere, the tone of Fade finds Yo La Tengo at their most meditative since 2000's And The Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. Following on from its crunchy opener, the initial effect is somewhat jarring but repeated listens reveals an expertly planned sonic journey that's not unlike experiencing a caress that develops into warm and welcoming arms offering warmth and security. Yo La Tengo's ongoing fascination with 60s soul is evidenced on 'Well You Better' while 'Stupid Things' proves that The Velvet Underground's eponymous third album will always be held closer to their collective heart than the riotous White Light/White Heat.
Solid and dependable, Fade is another album in a long line of impressive works that, whilst never setting a cultural agenda, is always returned to for satisfying rewards. It's one of the main reasons that Yo La Tengo have been around for so long and with so much quality to justify their existence. There's love in these songs – a love of writing them, a love of recording them and a love of playing them. This is lovely, joyous and pure music. Open your door and open your hearts once more. Both you and Yo La Tengo deserve each other. - Julian Marszalek

yo la tengo
You couldn't exactly accuse Yo La Tengo of being as single-minded as the Ramones – for all that the bedrock of their signature sound is what singer-guitarist Ira Kaplan calls "the suburbanisation of the underground", over the last quarter-century they have incorporated free jazz, soft pop, garage rock, surf pop, folk rock and pretty much everything you can do with an electric guitar alongside their default post-Velvets drone-rock. Still, they're pretty much instantly recognisable, and their 13th studio album could fit anywhere into their post-1990 discography, acting as a guided tour through their styles, via the fuzzy rock of Ohm, the brisk, understated pop of Well You Better, the feedback squall of Paddle Forward, the folky reverie of Cornelia and Jane. The biggest point of difference from their past – and it's a welcome one, given that Yo La Tengo can become too much of a good thing – is in the album's length. Fade clocks in at a neat 45 minutes, which counts as a major upheaval from a band who've been making hour-plus albums since the mid-90s. -

Yo La Tengo's classic mid-1990s run (Painful, Electr-o-Pura, and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One) perfectly embodied the era's collective embrace of the mix-tape-as-courtship-device. These records were sprawling yet intimate, stylistically all over the map yet purposefully constructed. And whether they took the form of earwax-melting noise freakouts or bossa nova lullabies, they always projected the unmistakable, endearing personalities of their makers. But technological changes over the past decade have rendered the mix-tape (or CD-R) an outmoded concept as the shuffled playlist has become the cornerstone of our contemporary listening habits. What was once a unique, painstakingly assembled listening experience has become our default mode.
And true to their quietly contrarian, trend-averse nature, Yo La Tengo have responded to our accelerated, quick-click culture with a more patient approach: Since 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, their albums have mostly favoured calming consistency over unpredictable pastiche, while their more outre interests have been redirected toward side projects (see: the garage-punk goofiness of Condo Fucks) or improvised soundtrack work (2002's The Sounds of the Sounds of Science). And even though their most recent releases have shown a renewed interest in stretching songs past the 10-minute mark, these extended pieces are segregated from the more pop-oriented material on the tracklist, serving as bookends (2006's I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass) or shunted off to separate sides of vinyl (2009's Popular Songs).
Fade takes the refinement process one step further, revisiting the brief, breezy-listening forms of Popular Songs' first two sides, but lopping off the backloaded free-form excursions entirely. And at a tight 10 songs and 46 minutes, it's the band's shortest album since 1990's Fakebook. But none of that is to suggest Fade is any more slight than its heftier predecessors. Even as Yo La Tengo lean to their quieter side here, the band's sense of playfulness comes through. Produced by John McEntire, Fade lets you appreciate the complexity of its simplicity. It may trod over some familiar turf-- Georgia Hubley's fuzz-pop standout "Paddle Forward" squeezes another drop of blood from "Sugarcube"-- but the relaxed pacing and pleasing melodies belie just how much action is really going on beneath the serene surfaces.
Truth is, Fade can be every bit as adventurous as the band's most eclectic albums, but applies its myriad layers in more subtle fashion: The opening "Ohm" locks into its shuffling, clap-along tabla-funk groove and repetitive, corrosive jangle riff for its full six-minute-plus duration, before gradually thickening the guitar noise and organ drone until the anodyne group-unison vocals transform from monotone to mantra. Centerpiece track "Stupid Things" is even more sublime, beginning with some tranquil, exploratory guitar noodling from Ira Kaplan that summons a brushed-snare beat resembling a krautrock skiffle, and sets its chorus aflight on a pillowy bed of strings. And the hazy, soft-focus balladry of "Two Trains" is beautifully bent out of shape by a wobbly, dubwise rhythm.
As ever, Kaplan and Georgia Hubley's lyrics assume the form of overheard, one-way conversations between intimates falling in and out of love. And even in Fade's most sanguine moments, there's a sense of unease creeping into Yo La Tengo's little corner of the world. The smooth Motown-by-way-of-Thrill Jockey moves of "Well You Better" bely Kaplan's anxious demands ("Baby, make up your mind"); "Is That Enough" tries to gloss over its sense of doubt and defeat with cheeky string-section fills, but the distant, distorted guitar line buzzing in the background offers a lingering reminder of the bitterness being suppressed. Fade threatens to become too preoccupied with understated details during its increasingly subdued second act, and yet that sense of restraint just makes the triumphant finale "Before We Run" soar all the more gloriously, elevating Hubley's humble melody with a euphoric brass-and-string fanfare. It may not herald another big day coming, but Fade is a thoroughly immersive dusk-to-dawn soundtrack to a dark night's passing. - Stuart Berman

Perennially entertaining rock trio Yo La Tengo are nothing if not reliable. Traditionally their trump card is versatility; their ability to slide with no apparent hardship between styles inconceivable to lesser mortal rock groups.
A light jazz swing, a pop vignette with radio-friendly buzz and bite, a pervading psychedelic odyssey of giant length but somehow bolted together with Ira Kaplan’s uncanny balancing of heart and heft (and that’s just his guitar)… They are, undoubtedly, one of the more remarkable American groups to have emerged in the last 20 years. And with Fade, it seems they’ve settled for one sound.
Anyone familiar with Yo La Tengo’s catalogue will know that they’ve done this before. 2003’s Summer Sun is the closest bedfellow to Fade in that it shares a peculiar wooziness and hushed delivery. Here, songs like Two Trains, The Point of It and much of the latter half of the LP are dominated by those inimitable driftwood jams.
Early reports have also drawn links between Fade and earlier landmarks LPs: 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. But there’s a more complex progression happening here, the band assembling a larger range of musical tools than they’ve ever had.
Their most recent albums have introduced a curiously indulgent series of pop templates – bluesy novelties and Motown strings are all over their last two LPs – so it’s nice that they’ve now become completely comfortable elements of their sound.
Rather than those influences becoming a marked stylistic shift, they’ve simply become different notches on the same bedpost, interchangeable and seamless. Saxophone pomp on Before We Run, for example, doesn’t sound like a novelty, just the right noise at the right time.
Purists intrigued by the band enlisting John McEntire (of Tortoise and innumerable notable indie releases) as producer instead of Roger Moutenot, who has worked on every Yo La Tengo record since 1993, will find little to gripe about. Fade sounds irreversibly like it’s their record, and nobody else’s.
The real revelation about Fade is that it is the most settled album they’ve recorded in years. Curiously, Yo La Tengo’s versatility has allowed them to turn a million different sounds into a single gorgeous and unfailingly interesting one. - Daniel Ross
There’s a particular loneliness to the January commute when, after all the office parties and family time, we stop making eye contact and slip back into our own thoughts along with our work clothes. It’s the perfect time for a little shoegazing. And Hoboken indie legends Yo La Tengo are always at their most comfortable making the kind of privately beautiful, slow-motion music that invites you to sink deep into spirals of drowsy introspection before gently lifting your face back to face the day ahead. Formed by Ira Kaplan (guitars, vocals) and his wife Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals) in 1984, they’ve spent almost three decades getting reliably good at their craft. But they have also been so humble about it, that they’re often in danger of being overlooked as part of the musical landscape – like the old tree that stands simply on the cover of the band’s gorgeously Zen 13th album and also appears as the stately indifferent star in their most recent videos.
Fade opens with a gentle, train-track rattle of percussion and a rain shimmer from the keyboard before lurching into feedback-frayed momentum with a simple, repetitive guitar riff. Kaplan, Hubley and bassist James McNew sing together, like shy members of a casual, secular congregation. Their loin-girding, lo-fi mantra starts out philosophical: “Sometimes the bad guys go right on top/ Sometimes the good guys lose/ We try not to lose our hearts, not to lose our minds.” But as the song builds, it takes courage, lifting the warmth, hope and even joy out of the resignation. So lines like “Nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained” start as harsh truths, turn trance-like and gradually attain an enlightened glow of happy-go-lucky high spirits.
They’ve always had a knack for sweet, Sixties-esque melodies, and the second track Is That Enough is a string-soaked, sundae-swirl of them, balanced by the grungy buzz of Kaplan’s guitar and undercut artfully by a breezy lyric about accepting defeat. The album’s centre gets murkier, but sun breaks into a clear dawn on the gently picked acoustic I’ll be Around and Cornelia and Jane, where Hubley’s dreamlike vocal sinks into a warm swell of brass. Each thoughtful sonic soundscape washes elegantly into the next, toward the long, lush finale: Before We Run, with its propulsive, gangly-legged gait and rich, rising orchestral currents. “Take me to your lonely, distant place/ Take me out beyond mistrust,” sing Kaplan and Hubley. It’s like they’re overcoming their shyness to hold out welcoming arms, leading us wisely and gently into 2013. - 

Yo La Tengo recently completed their “Eight Nights of Hannukah” showcase at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, an indie rock holiday tradition that’s been going on in some form or another since 2001 (though they’ve sat out a year or two). These are not garden variety Yo La Tengo shows, instead taking on the feel of vinyl-nerd potluck dinners; the mystery opening acts range from highly obscure to bands capable of drawing larger crowds than YLT themselves (e.g. Jeff Tweedy, the National), there’s always a stand-up comedy interlude, and the hosts play drawn out sets with plenty of sit in guests and cover tunes, often from Jewish songwriters. And rest assured the Feelies (or one of their seventeen side projects) will be involved somehow.
So Yo La Tengo fans on their mailing list had reason to be alarmed in 2011 when they received an email from guitarist Ira Kaplan stating that while the 2011 shows would indeed go on as planned, they would have a slightly different appearance due to an unspecified, but serious “health scare” he suffered a few weeks prior. Kaplan then proceeded to play all of the shows sitting in a chair, freed from the weight of his guitar’s shoulder strap and unable to flail around like he usually does, leading many to speculate as to a minor heart attack or stroke. “Stunt guitarists” (e.g. Mac McCaughan, Smokey Hormel, Antietam’s Tara Key) were employed every night to help shoulder the load, and the quality didn’t suffer a smidgen, save the admittedly bizarre sight of someone other than Kaplan taking the solo in “Stockholm Syndrome.”
With that backstory in mind, coupled with a Matador press release promising “themes of aging, personal tragedy, and emotional bonds,” Fade appeared to be setting up as Ira Kaplan’s “Oh man, I almost died!” record, a late night rumination on mortality akin to say, Lou Reed’s Magic & Loss (1992). This isn’t entirely inaccurate, especially in Fade’s considerably sedate second half, a whispered stretch of songs akin to Yo La Tengo’s other reputably “dark” album, 2000’s And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. But irrespective of how their lyrics appear on paper, Yo La Tengo is the farthest thing from a morose band. Their bleaker moments always offset by fuzzy, lovingly off-kilter pop songs that illustrate the joy that Ira Kaplan and his wife Georgia Hubley still get out of nearly thirty years of making music.
Fade is Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth studio album, and is instantly recognizable as such. But there are two notable differences, namely the album length and choice of producer. At a scant ten songs and just under 46 minutes, Fade is uncharacteristically compact: it’s the shortest Yo La Tengo record since the mostly acoustic Fakebook (1990) and bereft of the ten minute white-noise jams they’ve become known for. It’s also their first record in nineteen years that was produced by somebody other than Roger Moutenot, something that should give hope to all Radiohead fans awaiting Nigel Godrich’s exit (and I suppose Red Hot Chili Peppers fans sick of Rick Rubin). Production is entrusted to Chicago post-rock veteran John McEntire, and the difference is immediately evident.
And with all due respect to Roger Moutenot, instrumental in crafting YLT’s spellbinding mid-‘90s run of albums, it was a good time for a change. The prior two Yo La Tengo records, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass (2006) and Popular Songs (2009), while both good, were ever so slightly approaching stock, particularly the latter. McEntire doesn’t overhaul Yo La Tengo’s established sound so much as sharpen it; every sound is a little crisper, the instrument separation more notable. Plus it sounds like Soma Studios may have had the two or three vintage keyboards in the known universe that they haven’t used yet. And McEntire drums for Tortoise and the Sea & Cake, so he should be expected to know how to record them; Georgia Hubley has always been more dependable than flashy, but Fade is arguably the first Yo La Tengo album that will induce bouts of air drumming.
All of the above becomes immediately evident on opening track “Ohm,” where electric keyboard noodling morphs into a uncharacteristically strident drum beat, then overlaid with an insistent Kaplan guitar riff and unison chant vocals from all three members (though James McNew is highest in the mix, the closest he gets to having his own song here). The upbeat drive of the music overshadows some dark lyrical content: “For this is it for all we know / So say good night to me / And lose no more time.” Anyone who has heard the likes of “Decora,” “Pass the Hatchet, I’m Good Kind,” or even the slow version of “Big Day Coming” that kicks off Painful (1993) is aware that Yo La Tengo knows how to open records, but even by these standards, “Ohm” is ridiculously strong; its seven minutes strongly influenced by raga and containing the best Ira Kaplan™ fuzz solo on the album. The remaining four songs on Side A of Fade, and this is unquestionably a Side A/B affair, offer refined versions of the pop-styles YLT had begun to explore on Popular Songs, notably the Motown-string section enhanced AM Gold of “Is That Enough,” vintage organ skiffle of “Well You Better,” and on “Paddle Forward,” the type of fuzz-pedal indie-rock song that these guys could pull off unconscious, but with some extra thwack in the drums, a McEntire enhancement.
The light motorik pulse and whispered vocals of “Stupid Things” leads into somewhat more fraught waters of Fade’s Side B, a relatively quieter series of songs highlighted by two Georgia Hubley ballads and the underwater dub of “Two Trains.” The latter is amongst Yo La Tengo’s lushest productions to date, a contemplative ballad that morphs into a husband-wife duet, the lyrics “before the fall, before the flood” eerily taking on a meaning for which they were never intended in light of the damage Hurricane Sandy inflicted on their hometown. Soaring album bookend “Before We Run” allows John McEntire to show off his skill as a deft arranger of brass, and has usurped “Night Falls on Hoboken” as the best Yo La Tengo song to lure one off to a pleasant sleep, as much for Georgia Hubley’s calming vocals as the fact that it’s not eighteen minutes long, and less likely to induce odd drumming nightmares (trust me on this one).
There is absolutely no filler on this record. None. There’s no “Moonrock Mambo” or “Nothing But You and Me” to disrupt the flow; Fade was impeccably sequenced as a full album, and deserves to be experienced as such. And there was really no question as to whether Fade would be “good”; Yo La Tengo routinely takes three years between albums and their taste is too refined to place a mediocre product on the market. But whether it’s the result of getting some fresh opinions in the studio, or a particularly strong burst of inspiration, Fade is approaching a late career masterwork, their strongest top to bottom effort since their mid-‘90s peak. While I’m sincerely hoping that Fade is not the last Yo La Tengo studio album, it does seem to carry an air of finality about it, and would serve as an impressive career summation. But I can no longer imagine celebrating Hannukah without these guys—the Eight Crazy Nights would be considerably less so, the chicken pot pie at Maxwell’s entirely stripped of its grandeur. - David M. Goldstein

Recently, I was thinking about artists who have been around awhile and whose work has been labeled as ‘influential’ at one point or another. Thirteen albums into their career, Yo La Tengo certainly falls into that lot. But what makes a listener care about their new music? It’s an interesting question. Why should I care about Fade when I have Painful and I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One in my collection already? More over, does this new music lend a different lens through which to examine their older work? What, potentially, makes this essential Yo La Tengo listening?
Fade is defined by its opening and closing tracks. They are the two longest songs on the album and in the case of the former, it gives the record its defining lyrical mood. “Ohm,” as the track is called, has a homophonic double meaning. “Nothing ever stays the same / nothing’s explained…’cause this is it for all we know / so say goodbye to me / and lose no more time…resisting the flow.” Ohms, of course, are the SI unit for electrical resistance, but it’s also pronounced the same as the mystical syllable that is used in Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions to represent, among other things, the single vibrating sound that connects all of the universe. And “Ohm” is nothing if not a vibrant and hypnotic song. As the consistent drum beat propels the song through its time, everything seems in service of the song’s whole sound. Nothing is out of place, nothing distracts from the song’s mantra. “Before We Run,” the album’s closing song, is made by its horn section, a triumphal song of uncertainty, of eyes-forward and of counting on the support of others to grow and evolve. If “Ohm” is the beginning of Fade‘s chant, the beginning of its meditation, then “Before We Run” is the closing moments, the finishing breath.

Fade, to my ears, most resembles my personal favorite YLT album, And then nothing turned itself inside-out. While there is nothing here quite like the resplendent noise-pop of “Cherry Chapstick,” there is “Paddle Forward,” the closest thing to that sort of hooky static-laden song. “Stupid Things” builds its shape around a Motorik-beat before swooping out and back in the song’s choruses and bridge, creating something more radiant than its Krautrock center. It seems the album’s most delicate and beautiful moments are reserved for Georgia Hubley’s lead vocals as both the aforementioned “Before We Run” and “Cornelia and Jane” are among the album’s most fragile moments. The album is front-loaded with its heaviest songs, but that’s certainly a relative term considering the calmer feel of most of Yo La Tengo’s records over the recent past. If, as “Ohm” perhaps suggests, this album parallels the vibration of one prayer, or even one life, the album’s progression from quicker tempo, louder songs into its more reflective and elegant second-half feels appropriate.
Does Fade matter? Does it give us a lens through which to view the band’s work? It’s a slow-grower. Where I found my initial listen to the album giving me fits in terms of grabbing onto much beyond its opening and closing tracks, I found myself inexplicably drawn back to the record again and again until, now double-digit listens deep into my relationship with it, I find it becoming an even more enriching and deep listen. Yo La Tengo has made that rare late-career record that makes both a solid and excellent entry for the unconverted and a perfect addition for the acolytes. - j neas

With Yo La Tengo having now rounded the quarter-century mark (including more than two decades in its current lineup), it would be reasonable to expect the band to start slowing down a bit. Fade suggests the trio wouldn’t disagree: Defined by its dreamy ruminations on aging, the record is both a clear-eyed assessment of how far the band has come and a perspective on what’s ahead. In taking stock of the past, the album seamlessly blends relaxed orchestration and spirited noisemaking within digestible pop structures, resulting in the group’s best collection since 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
Yo La Tengo’s last go-around, 2009’s Popular Songs, was split into two parts, one of catchy, concise melodies, the other of sprawling, meandering clamor. Fade expands upon the more memorable first half of that record, while giving the group a little more room to play—though not as punchy as the band’s most accessible work, Fade is a disciplined album, oriented toward songs rather than free-form musicianship. While there are bouts of controlled commotion here and there, it’s the sublime, softly alluring cuts where the record makes its strongest emotional connections.
The fragile, organic “I’ll Be Around,” for example, quietly explores love and longing atop ambling, windswept acoustic finger-picking, anchored by a rolling, metronomic bass pulse; with frontman Ira Kaplan’s hushed vocals, it’s one of the more uncomplicated, intimate songs the group has done in years. Similarly, with a breathy whisper on “The Point Of It,” Kaplan contemplates life’s lessons across an atmospheric lull of subdued guitars. Paired with closer “Before We Run,” the song epitomizes the album’s delicate treatment of broad, universal themes, given a growing sense of drama through the measured addition of strings and horns. Yo La Tengo may not be as daringly innovative as it once was, but, in targeting its experiments to a cohesive purpose, the band successfully fulfills Fade’s grandiose scope. - Chris Mincher

The first lines Ira Kaplan sings on Yo La Tengo’s 13th album Fade may be, “Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose,” but the arc of his band’s career proves that nothing could be further from the truth, at least in its own one case. While rock has always propped up self-destructive drama queens—and even the contrarian indie scene has often preferred hyping up ill-tempered high-maintenance types—the downright normal Hoboken trio proves that the good guys sometimes win, as the husband-and-wife team of Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are at the height of their popularity after almost three decades playing together as a band. In this case, the nicest, most grounded indie act probably ever has outlasted its more vaunted and dysfunctional peers like Pavement, Sebadoh, and even Sonic Youth, emerging as the unlikely last band standing from the scene’s ‘90s halcyon days.
So when Kaplan croons “Nothing stays the same” a little later on the opener “Ohm”, he’s definitely not talking about Yo La Tengo, which has survived and thrived thanks to a consistency and even-keeled work ethic unmatched on the indie circuit. In other words, Yo La Tengo’s hardly fading on Fade, the threesome’s good-natured nervous energy never flagging and its ESP-like back-and-forth as tight as ever. While much has been made—by the band itself, no less—about Yo La Tengo reining in its expansive, improvisational noiseplay in working for the first time with Tortoise whiz John McEntire as producer, not too much on Fade suggests the trio is holding back or refining its act, as the extra coating of feedback-y atmosphere on much of the album makes apparent.
If anything, the stunning “Ohm”, a patented Yo La Tengo workout that’s all about scuff-marked distortion pedals and elbow-greasy guitars instead of high-concept production trickery, makes it obvious right from the very start that the more things stay the same, the more things stay the same on Fade. The way Yo La Tengo combines Kaplan’s almost hoarse vocals, fuzzy guitar, zingy effects, and strategic maracas and bongos to whip up a harmonious cacophony on “Ohm” would be serendipitous, except that this is what Yo La Tengo does and has always done, drawing rhythm out of melody and hooks out of grooves. “Ohm” is the quintessential articulation of Yo La Tengo’s musical intuition, tapping into something that’s inherent to the outfit’s dynamic that can’t be corralled by the conscious intentions of any producer or perhaps even the players themselves.
Indeed, much of Fade feels like an exercise in free association with previous Yo La Tengo efforts, making it an album that’s appealingly familiar, yet without seeming like it only revisits past triumphs. Like a lower-key version of “Cherry Chapstick”, the ragged charmer “Paddle Forward” conveys easy-going good vibes with ramshackle playing and just enough guitar oomph to give it a driving pop sensibility. On its heels, “Stupid Things” takes Electr-O-Pura-era guitar noodling as a starting point before transitioning into the cricket-chirping atmospherics of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, as if they were reinterpreting tender ballads like “My Heart’s Reflection” and “The Hour Grows Late” with the benefit their early 2000s innovations. Likewise, after-hours ditty “Two Trains” would’ve fit comfortably on Nothing, its syncopated “Saturday”-like drum machine patterns adding some streetlamp-lit warmth to a still, dusky soundscape.
Whatever the collaboration with McEntire does introduce to the tried-and-true Yo La Tengo formula comes fully integrated into the mix, as not-too-obtrusive embellishments that don’t tamper with Yo La Tengo’s alchemical balance, rather accenting and drawing out the group’s sound just a little more. If there’s one aspect where McEntire’s influence is felt the most, it’s the incorporation of crisper instrumental accompaniments, most often in the form of clean string arrangements or brisk horn passages. While those elements are ones Yo La Tengo has utilized for awhile now, Fade does a better job of taking advantage of the way they can add more shape to the song structures, particularly in the case of Hubley’s chamber-pop piece “Cornelia and Jane”, which is bolder and sharper than similar tracks from the past few LPs. But it’s on the panoramic closer “Before We Run” that McEntire’s semi-classical touches shine through the best: Deservedly taking its place alongside the tour-de-force codas that are something of a Yo La Tengo tradition, “Before We Run” gains momentum with each repetition of the main melodic pattern, then gathers even more steam when the interplay of guitar and keyboard is punctuated by trumpets, violins, and skronky bits that add more depth and weight through the orchestration.
No matter how much—or even whether—Yo La Tengo’s approach changes on Fade, ultimately what ties this latest batch of songs to the band’s oeuvre as a whole is the open-hearted mood and generous feeling it conveys, something that’s a given whether the tracks sound the same or have an added layer of polish. The folksy sentimentality of “Is That Enough” gets across the band’s warm-and-fuzzies the best on Fade, as its buzzy guitar, plaintive keyboard lines, and Kaplan’s in-his-head lyrics are dressed up by a stately string accompaniment that sneaks its way to the fore. It’s a telling example of how Yo La Tengo is able to balance inviting, heartwarming nostalgia with just enough of a twist to make familiar sounding music feel fresh and vital after all the years. So when Kaplan asks, “Is that enough?,” and seems uncertain that it is, you know what the real answer is when it comes to Fade or actually any given Yo La Tengo effort: Yeah, Fade is more than enough, proof positive that these good guys always come out on top. - Arnold Pan

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