Yo La Tengo Fade

Even as they close in on three genre-spanning-decades, Yo La Tengo’s soft but propulsive music is still effective, but, Fade, their thirteenth studio album, sees them attempting to keep themselves interesting. The band generally favour long albums, both in minutes and title length. Their two most acclaimed albums; 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, are both around the 70 minute mark. They are amazing but demanding albums that you have to live with for a while. At 46 minutes and a one word title, Fade, is their most streamlined release for years. Unlike their previous mammoth, sprawling LPs, it’s the sort of album that you could just throw on; an unintimidating abridged snapshot of Yo La Tengo’s work. It may go on to serve as the best introduction to their work.

Fade glimmers into view with “Ohm”, the gorgeous opener that unravels and ascends like a sunrise. Moving glacially as it reveals a deep, unassuming beauty within Georgia Hubley’s simple driving drumbeat and Ira Kaplan’s soft vocals and searing guitar lead. They maintain the fuzzy chords and blissful lyrics for almost seven flawless minutes, it makes everything glisten. It leaves you with a sense of melancholy during its long fadeout, wishing you could go with it as it dies out. It’s as perfect as an opener can get. The album almost climaxes with its dazzling and crashing waves, the rest of the songs are like “Ohm”’s ripples, as Yo La Tengo lets us watch the waters settle for another 39 minutes.

The song’s energy is only matched by “Paddle Forward”, a fuzzy rock song with a wonky and noisy guitar sound, Kaplan and Hubley sing the sequestered vocal hooks and melodies together. The remaining songs are generally slower and lower key. The mumbled bleat and light guitar chords of “Is That Enough” are accompanied by a beautiful string section. Hubley adds a sweet harmony to her husband Kaplan’s chorus, making it seem like a romantic moment between the couple. They try another style with the hushed motorik beats of “Stupid Things”, in which Kaplan flashes a measured guitar solo and sings some of his most overtly romantic lyrics. “Well You Better” is a tranquil pop song, built around a shuffling drum beat and James McNew’s airy bass groove. Kaplan sings the “baby make up your mind” hook in a subdued but fun way that translates the song’s simplistic joy.

Side two presents a sleepier and more patience set of songs as the ripples begin to die out. The rich acoustic strums of “I’ll Be Around” are laid over a droning groundbed, and “Cornelia and Jane” is a swelling Hubley fronted vocal piece, with light horns and fluid instrumentation. This section can be a slog if you’re not in the right mood. It’s kind of a gorgeous bore, which strengthens the argument that the trio’s albums don’t need to be 70 minutes long. But they pull it back and show their mastery in bookending albums with the slow burning closer “Before We Run”. Which surges with sparkling string hooks and triumphant horns, and lets you stay with it as it extends past Kaplan’s and Hubley’s fluttering verse duets.

Fade sees Yo La Tengo getting their breath back, and their style works beautifully in a shorter form as they consciously try and succeed in keeping their sound fresh.

4/5

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