The term ‘less is more’ doesn’t seem to apply for a band like Yo La Tengo since they have managed to incorporate pretty much every genre into their extensive catalogue –jazz, surf rock, folk and garage rock, to name just a few. As eclectic as their intentions may be, they always come up with an instantly recognizable sound. So, it comes as no surprise that their latest output, Fade, sounds like what we’ve come to expect from this band. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Going into their third decade together, the New Jersey-based trio have consolidated themselves as one of the pioneer acts in indie rock thanks to groundbreaking albums like 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. For the last decade though, they have been experimenting and expanding their sound, most notably with 2006’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. With this latest release, the band certaintly reminds us why we should still be listening to, and, ultimately, learning from them.
Fade opens with ‘Ohm’, easily the most upbeat and catchy track on the album. Clocking in at almost 7 minutes, its ever-growing array of percussive drums and jangly guitars build up majestically into what may be the best album opener we’ll hear this year (and we’re not even past January). “But nothing ever stays the same/ Nothing’s explained” they sing in unision, and it comes to be the most sincere and grounded statement they’ve given us. At this point in their lives, one might expect them to be closer to solving the answers to all life-related questions; but they’re not, and that’s fine. Evidently, they are coping well with age, and instead, they seem to be growing younger. ‘Ohm’ is a song that rejuvenates the sound of Yo La Tengo.
As the driving beat of ‘Ohm’ fades out, however, that’s pretty much it for the upbeat moments. Everything seems to calm down with ‘Is That Enough’ and its beautiful string arrangements. From there on, the album guides the listener through a collection of mellow-driven tunes, exposing one of the best songs the band have come up with. ‘Well You Better’ is a nice, quirky song about resolving one’s doubts, and it shines exquisitely thanks to its lively, danceable sixties feel. ‘Stupid Things’ is amongst the band’s best, a track that relies on laid-back beats and gliding guitars that soar magically during its chorus, making it sound almost like a jam session.
The album becomes a contemplative and intimate affair, with Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s sleepy vocals asking yearning questions such as “Where does time go before our eyes?” The overall mood is bittersweet, but that’s not to say it achieves hopelessness. The songs seem to be reaching out to someone, with lines like “I’ll be around to pick up your fears” or “…And I still miss you at times” in the folksy, acoustic-driven ‘I’ll Be Around’. The album stand-out, ‘Cornelia and Jane’, follows the same melancholic pattern, showcasing the ever-sweet and delicate vocals of Ms. Hubley as she sings “But no one knows what’s lost in your eyes”. This is, simply, Yo La Tengo at their most inviting and comforting.
The album closes with ‘Before We Run’. It’s a victorious track, one that reassures the band’s status and will to reach out to others. And this is basically what Fade is all about. They’re telling us that all moments in life eventually fade, but as long as you’re there for someone, nothing’s really lost. In the end, this album achieves what it sets out to be: a sweet, melancholic and strangely uplifting album.
Reviewed by Jose Rodriguez P.