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Yo La Tengo

Release Date: January 15, 2013

Rating: 3.5 / 5


Yo La Tengo is pretty much an indie rock institution. They’ve been releasing albums since 1984 and have had a consistent lineup since 1992 (both ways the band is older than I am).

While they’ve never really crossed over or broken into the mainstream, they’ve released 13 albums over the last 29 years, the vast majority of which have been at least warmly received by critics and have done well enough for the band to continue making music. They are indie rock elder statesmen existing somewhere between The Feelies and REM, a middle ground of critical acclaim and success.

With Yo La Tengo’s current lineup at 21 years old and the members in their upper 50s, it seems a little wrong to call Fade a middle-aged album in either context. But both lyrically and musically, that’s how it feels.

Lyrically, the album is mostly about being in (and out) of love and having questions for which there aren’t really answers. (Two-thirds of the Yo La Tengo trio, as well as the primary singers and songwriters, are husband and wife.)

“Stupid Things” finds solace in love: “I always know that when we wake up / you’re mine.” “I’ll Be Around” is about, unsurprisingly, being there for each other: “I’ll be around / to pick up your thought / I’ll be around.”

On the flip side, “Cornelia and Jane” deals with partners growing apart: “Slipping away / fade deep inside of you / but how can we hold on to you?” and “Two Trains” asks “what are you going to do? / we’re all waiting for you.”

“The Point of It” deals with both of these sides. It opens by asking “when you’re screaming in my ear / what’s the point of it? / when you’re sure no one can hear.” In the middle section of the song, they find a possible answer: “say that we’re afraid / say that we were wrong / maybe that’s okay / if we’re not so strong / that’s the point of it.” They settle on a final answer, and the song fades out with “when I’m standing next to you / that’s the point of it / when there’s no one but us two / that’s the point of it.”

The album also treads a musical middle ground. The light hearted “Well You Better” features soft, slightly distorted vocals and a cheeky guitar solo. “Paddle Forward” is a simple, straight ahead fuzz-pop song. Most songs start simply, build slowly, and resolve cleanly at the end. Whether it’s the finger-picked acoustic guitar of the almost folk-like “I’ll Be Around” or the krautrock groove of opener “Ohm,” Fade‘s songwriting is meticulously thought out.

Even the length of Fade is somewhat of a middle ground. Ten songs and 45 minutes is about as standard as you can get for album length. Whether intentional or not, Fade is an in-the-middle album.

Songs fade in and out slowly, blending into each other. There is a consistent tone and mood throughout, and things are always exceedingly pleasant. It’s not a boring listen by any means, but it doesn’t reach out and grab you either. It’s not simply musical comfort food, there are oddities and adventurous elements that stick out, but it’s not a challenging or difficult album either.

Most songs arrive at a clean resolution, but they don’t all take a straight line to get there. There isn’t much of a sense of urgency, but Yo La Tengo doesn’t sound complacent either. It’s a great record for background, passive listening while doing some homework, but it also stands up to close, active listening. For better or worse, Fade allows the audience to get as much or as little out of it as they want.

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