Yo La Tengo is a messed up band.
On Fade, the group’s first proper album since 2009’s Popular Songs, the album’s first single, “Ohm” opens the disc with a nervous percussion loop and a dark, ominous hum until bursting into chugging guitar and a seriously heavy drum part from Georgia Hubley. That may sound convoluted; that’s because it totally is. Major key riffs and sing-song vocals mix with devastating six-string deconstruction and inexplicable lyrics that seem to suggest exactly what the instrumental side of the song does: “But nothing ever stays the same / Nothing’s explained.” The same can be said for Yo La Tengo.
Though the band has worldwide acclaim from nearly any rock critic who isn’t living UNDER a rock (I know, I’m HILARIOUS) the trio has also faced some criticisms as to their unwillingness to commit to a style or a sound. Even the brilliant I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One had the Neil Young throwaway, “Stockholm Syndrome.” And I hate Neil Young. The point is, Yo La Tengo has always been one of those bands that does whatever the fuck it wants and lets its fans (i.e. rock critics)sort it all out.
That being said, Fade is a damn good record from a damn good band. So what if the opening strains of “Is That Enough” sounds remarkably like Chicago’s, “If You Leave Me Now?” Ira Kaplan’s effervescent mix of crystal clear arpeggios and brown-note style feedback WILL make this a Yo La Tengo song. So what if, “Well You Better” has a keyboard line that must have been the same keyboard from the Family Feud theme song? Kaplan’s high tenor and over-enunciation of all “c” and “k” sounds WILL make it a Yo La Tengo song (I would love to hear him say the phrase, “Ice Cold Coca-Cola Classic.” It makes my head hurt I want to hear it so bad).
The true genius of YLT is in the dark spots. This is because the dark spots are also the same spots you find the pretty spots (spots, spots, spots). Tunes like, “Paddle Forward,” and “Cornelia and Jane,” are guitar workouts that don’t flex muscles; rather, they show tone and definition. And on the album closer, “Before We Run,” Kaplan and bassist/multi-instrumentalist James McNew take the song from giddy heights to crashing lows, all without breaking a sweat. Fade may not be a high-water mark, but it’s pleasant enough to make you follow them upstream (salmon joke: nailed it.) Yo La Tengo is a band that understands everything doesn’t have to be pretty to be beautiful. Or make sense to be brilliant.
editors note: We regret to inform you Natty Morrison has been fired for saying “Stockholm Syndrome” was a throwaway.