Yo La Tengo – Fade

Albums / Words

14 Feb 13

Turn it up! Turn it up! It’s ‘Paddle Forward’, that awesome crashy cataclysmic track from that band, Yo La Tengo, 13 LPs young, who give as much of a shit for commercial success as Rihanna does about journalists she invites onto planes.

The record is carried by hefty production knowledge gained from 30 years in the business. Age is a definite benefactor for Fade. Dreamy ‘I’ll Be Around’ and ‘Cornelia and Jane’ carry the charm of an autumnal walk and the wretch of a parting scene in a Disney movie, as languid guitar and brass thud off into thematic discovery; the novice of compassion and relationships fore fronted.

Past album Summer Sun saw the band “leave the big ones off”, (their words), and this record is perhaps guilty of something similar. An illustrious past allows for experimental tinkering to wade in, and so it does, well, but heavier, up tempo and drum-led sequences are the most engaging and enjoyable points of this work. ‘Ohm’ and ‘Paddle Forward’, for instance, are rightfully showy, as bashful schmaltz takes a respite.

Fade slightly overdoes its clingy age-centric theme, as in ‘Two Trains’, which feels too paced, introverted and overly oozy. Otherwise, this is an ode to indie-rock musicianship; the trio, who are at their best when they pump up the amp and have fun we can all relate to, strike again.

While other groups of Yo La Tengo’s vintage are fading into obscurity or recklessly attempting to restore their tattered reputations with supposedly glorious comebacks, the trio continue to release unassumingly stellar records. Their thirteenth, Fade, is no exception.

The opening tracks are a pleasing combination of catchy pop melodies, subtly laced with feedback and distortion. The jangly riff and shuffling beat of ‘Ohm’, sugary 60s-pop of ‘Well you Better’ and feedback-tinged chords of ‘Paddle Forward’ are all built around the hushed crooning of Kaplan, Hubley and McNew.

The latter half of Fade sees the band drift into drowsy introspection, with the exquisitely off-kilter vocals of ‘I’ll be Around’ and Hubley’s solo vocals in ‘Cornelia and Jane’ glimmering against the distantly echoing, soft-focus instrumentals.

The sprawling finale, ‘Before We Run’ is an undoubted highlight, the joyful string and warm brass swelling to a welcome crescendo.

At only 46 minutes long, Fade is noticeably shorter than some of the band’s previous offerings. Yet, rather than cutting back, the band have filtered their most characteristic elements – the feedback heavy energy of the 90s and meandering experimentation of recent years – into a collection of comparatively simple pop songs. The result is an utterly pleasing and enjoyable record, brimming with quintessential, humbly accomplished Yo La Tengo charm.

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As age thirty nears, Yo La Tengo sound as fresh as an act a tenth of their years; their continued relevance thanks to a sustainable policy of re-moulding which is in evidence even as album thirteen unfolds.

The quality of Fade is in the all the subtleties of transition the name implies; and in its romantic, unsentimental interest in useful varieties of the retrograde. That is, the classic sound on which Yo La Tengo have constructed a quiet though enduring reputation.

It’s the opening songs – ‘Ohm’, ‘Is That Enough’ and ‘Well You Better’ – which offer the record’s most impactful moments, fired as they are by throwback grooves, and echoes of Lou Reed. With agitated rhythms suffused by unhurried instrumentation, each of the trio inspires a curious impression of travelling through the music at a slower-than-reality speed – ensuring the music’s agreeability in many a mood.

These are the record’s most impactful moments. The middle and latter stages of Fade showcase the full range of the New Jersey quartet – while retaining continuity, and possessing a sound of their very own – without attaining the same hip cool again. But when you cast the net widely, you are treated to a smorgasbord – and the variety here is a treat indeed.