By Hayley Scott
January 15, 2013
You’ve got to give it to them, Yo La Tengo are nothing if not consistent. The assiduity of the band allows them the ability to make consistently pleasing records, and in their 27 year existence, there’s very little evidence of apathy. What’s also admirable is the absence of predictability in their discography; the New Jersey trio have acquired a reputation for being continuously singular: as much as their back catalogue sounds distinctly YLT in its entirety, they possess a tendency to stretch out and incorporate something different every time.
Yo La Tengo timed the release of Fade perfectly: there’s a particular melancholy to January as we succumb to the post-Christmas gloom of reality checks and mundane routines. Everything seems marginally bleak in comparison to the blithe whimsy of December’s festivities. Then you put Fade on and suddenly you feel a little more assured; like a long lost friend, it greets you with the most welcoming embrace. There’s a certain warmth and sentiment to the record that makes it the perfect antidote to the ‘January blues’, and it’s appropriately crafted in habitual Yo La Tengo style.
While some albums take more than a quick once over to fully appreciate their cogency and force, others with immediate appeal often reveal themselves to be hollow at the core. Yo La Tengo have, thankfully, never suffered from the latter, but more often than not they produce albums that tend to enhance in magnitude over time. Fade is testimony to their ability to make understated records that turn out to be subtle and refined triumphs.
Although Fade marks a shift in tradition with production duties being assigned to Tortoise and The Sea & Cake member John McEntire, this album is occupied by aspects of previous masterpieces where familiar facets return to the foreground. It’s also another paradigm of Yo La Tengo’s genre-defying disposition: opener ‘Ohm’ sees the band deviating towards psychedelic territory with a six minute crescendo of galloping percussion and ample, jangly guitar; while ‘Well You Better’ contains a nonchalant joviality where Ira Kaplan’s melodic impulses remain intact. ‘Stupid Things’ is Yo La Tengo at not only their best, but their most profound; it shares the same intricacy and depth we found in 2000’s magnum opus And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. Essentially, while 2009’s Popular Songs was perhaps their least sincere work, Fade is the juxtaposed successor that feels more like a homecoming than a return to form.
Throughout the record, each track is underpinned by Kaplan’s half-whispering vocals that often interplay with the delicate but detached quality of Georgia’s. Each attentive sonic soundscape washes gracefully into the next toward the long, resplendent finale ‘Before We Run’ in which Georgia offers another welcomed solo vocal contribution that sails wistfully through ascending orchestral currents.
There’s one mighty significance that this band embody, and that is despite the current “volatile” state of the music industry, with hyped up inanities such as Haim being touted as catalysts for the supposed demise of guitar music, fans remain content in the knowledge that there will always be Yo La Tengo to fall back on, and Fade is a reminder of this affirmance. Their uncomplicated, modest approach to making unflashy, beautifully crafted music with substance is much needed in these times of putative musical uncertainty.
Of course, Fade won’t be extolled to the highest levels by excitable Radio 1 DJ’s, nor will it be the soundtrack to the ‘sad’ parts in Hollyoaks and it won’t sweep the board at the Grammys, let alone get a worthy nomination; but although not the band’s best ever record, it resides comfortably in and amongst some of their most affecting work.
Fade is available now.