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Yo La Tengo – Fade

Monday 18th February / posted by Adam Trainer

Arriving a leisurely three and a half years after their previous release Popular Songs in mid-2009, you certainly get the feeling that indie rock alumni Yo La Tengo aren’t in a hurry to go anywhere or achieve anything in particular, other than release exactly the kind of music they want to make. And indeed, the self-assured and lapidary tone that pervades this latest release Fade, achieves precisely that magisterial air of a band that have, after almost 30 years of practice, perfected the art of being themselves.

I reviewed Popular Songs back in 2009, and remarked then upon the apparent air of effortlessness with which Yo La Tengo craft songs that are at once simple, sophisticated and absolutely beguiling. However, whereas on that release they sought to provide an eclectic catalogue of the musical styles that underpin the indie rock idiom, on Fade they are more intent upon exploring a particular tonal structure or mood. This might be characterised as “warm indifference”, which may well be encapsulated within the ambiguity of the album’s title.

Opening track “Ohm” is recognisably Yo La Tengo from the first drop of the beat, and yet it also shifts their signature melodic pop sound into the realm of a drone or mantra with its single, lazy repeated chord strum, laced with multi-part harmonic vocals that dance around the root note in a kind of hypnotic fugue.      For a 6-minute pop song that is essentially melodic extrapolation upon one chord, it never loses its emotive power. The reference to applied physics in the repeated refrain—“Resistance Is Love”—combined with the zen-like drone of the arrangement, imparts to this track the quality of being both clever and transcendent.  From the opening salvo, you know that Yo La Tengo are, once again, on the money.

“Is That Enough?” follows on, revisiting one of Yo La Tengo’s most well worn of grooves: the mellow, loungey, sun-kissed pop song, replete with lush vocal harmonies and string arrangements. It is, quite simply, just a delightful song. There is a kind of reiterative quality to many of Yo La Tengo’s songs, where you get the feeling that they have been persistently working over the same territory in order to refine a formula to the point of perfection, like honing a recipe or technique over a long period of time. I believe they achieve this on “Is That Enough?” And given the element of reiterative questing, the genius of the song’s title is beyond question.

Simple, clean mod-garage pop references are evident on “Well You Better”, which is again an idiom toward which Yo La Tengo have often gravitated, and here they deliver the formula with an uncontrived groove that is impossible to dislike. The distortion pedal first makes itself unequivocally known on “Paddle Forward”, a track somewhat reminiscent of “Avalon, Or Someone Quite Similar” from Popular Songs, but again, rather than seeming repetitive, you feel that iterative, accumulative quality, where they build upon a particular structure of feeling with each permutation on the formula.

Early single release “Stupid Things” very much stands up on the album, with some shades of Don McLean’s “Vincent” in the lead guitar hook, warm organ splashes in the chorus, and a krautrock-ish rhythmic glide overlaid with sparse, minimalist guitar layering.

“I’ll Be Around” is another highlight, a lovely mellow folksy jaunt, which ventures into a more pastoral pop sound not always featured as strongly in other recent Yo La Tengo albums. But this track suggests new, spacious, and perhaps even hauntological/hypnagogic territory that Yo La Tengo could explore with just as much fruitful enterprise as any handful of the latest “new weird” exponents of spacious folk-drone might.

And on its goes. Each track has its own particular charm: the pastoral ambience of “Cornelia and Jane”, the space country of “Two Trains” and “The Point Of It”—both charmingly reminiscent of Beck’s Seachange—and the rousing, orchestrally-tinged album closer “Before We Run”.

It’s a new Yo La Tengo album. If you’re a fan, you’ll already have it and know what I mean. If you’re not, well you could do a lot worse than experience this album, if only to observe the sheer fascination of a band reflecting upon its own internal clockwork. It won’t seduce the critics or make many end of year displays of the most artful and avant-garde tastemakers. But it is a new Yo La Tengo album.  And I, for one, am most grateful for it.

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