Yo La Tengo


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]’ tag.

One 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.

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