New Music Tuesday: Yo La Tengo – “Fade”

Nicky Hug

Around 50% of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. The other 50% aren’t always the best of relationships either, often couples will stay together because of a child or other reason. Some, though, are storybook type relationships. The husband and wife are meant for each other and they live happily-ever-after, the end. However, most marriages – even the rare, extremely happy ones – don’t result in 12 LPs, critical acclaim, and a music career that spans almost two decades. Yet that is exactly what the marriage of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley has given the world. Started in 1984, Hubley and Kaplan’s Yo La Tengo has been going strong for 29 years and are returning for their 13th studio album Fade, today (steam available at Pitchfork). The album, the groups first in four years, is said to feature “lyrical themes of aging, tragedy and emotional bonds… woven into a fully-realized whole.”

 

Going into this album, I wasn’t sure precisely what to expect. I haven’t listened to much Yo La Tengo but I knew of their legacy as one of the great indie rock bands of the ’90s and I’m always reading for new music so I kept an open mind. After having listened to it almost once a day since it was first available to stream, I finally have some idea of what Yo La Tengo is and what they are aiming for with their latest effort. Initially, I was skeptical. The album felt like a bit bland, almost like the stereotypical “indie-pop” album of the past 20 or so years. Granted, there are more interesting rock elements thrown in as well, but I just wasn’t drawn in immediately. However, as I continued listening and paying closer attention, I discovered I was wrong: Fade does not disappoint. Its ten songs span 45 minutes and the group spends those 45 minutes pushing and experimenting, while creating an extremely accesible and enjoyable album.

 

Musically, the album doesn’t stray too far out of the bands comfort zone in terms of sound; most songs – especially during the second-half of the album – maintain a laid-back vibe, almost beach music-like. However, within their comfort zone, Yo La Tengo takes the opportunity to play around with the genre they have been defining for 20 years. Hard rock guitar solos, prominent bass lines, ska-vibes, finger-picking guitar, all share the album with the more typical reverb-heavy acoustic guitar chords and melodic, simple solos. There are definitely interesting things going on instrumentally in this album and worth taking a listen to. Lyrically, the band stays true to its promise of themes. Kaplan (and Hubley on some songs) throws deceptively simple lyrics on practically every song, touching on classic ideas of love, death, and life that prove irresistibly catchy. Opener “Ohm” exemplifies what happens when this combination of laid-back, but experimental indie-rock, combines with capable and universal lyrics. Kaplan and Hubely harmonize truths about life over a great backing track that includes maracas, bongos, and a strong solo at the end. Lyrically, they are dealing with somewhat terrifying concepts: “But nothing ever stays the same / Nothings explained / Lose no more time” all while delivering a feeling of calm. This untroubled attitude in death or destruction seems to be indicative of the band at this point in time. Its been 13 albums, they know their time is coming, but they’ve accepted the legacy they are leaving behind and are content to go out how they are; they are relaxed in the face of their demise. Based on this album, that end won’t come any time soon.

 

Rating: 4 /5

 

Key Tracks: Ohm, Well You Better, Before We Run

 

“Ohm”:

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