By the time a band release their 13th album in their 29th year of existence, there is every reason to think all they wanted to say has been said, and something else is more worthy of your attention. In most cases, you’d be right, in the case of Yo La Tengo, no. Not by a long shot.
Fade is it’s fair to say, one of the best albums of their very lengthy and surprisingly stable career. Though more down-at-heal than their most heralded releases, there are enough moments here like the clattering euphoria of closing Before We Run with its stinging string bursts and Georgia Hubley’s sleep-spoken lyrics, to remind you of how great they can be, and are. Throughout, the careful layering and texturing of songs, hidden in their apparent simplicity, is something wholly their own and even more notable than on their last release, 2009’s Popular Songs.
Seemingly influenced more by the band’s brace of film scores (Shortbus, Old Joy, Adventureland) than the guitar histrionics that epitomised the band’s last show in Melbourne, there is a delicate and sensitive quality to many of the songs. They only cut loose once here, on the 90s-indie rock throwback of Paddle Forward, but it’s a thee-minute Pavement-esque burst of brilliance you want to put on repeat.
In interviews leading up to it’s release lead singer and guitarist Ira Kaplan termed Fade a return to the themes of their two most celebrated albums 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating as One and 2000’s …and Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and of course, he’s right. Their peculiar brand of joyous nostalgia is here glowing like an amp valve, yet neither of these albums had the despondency that threads these ten songs together or its bouts of sparseness. More than anything though, there is a richness that still finds room for spontaneity that hasn’t been present since those records. Asking John McEntire to produce seems an obvious but smart choice (breaking a 19-year relationship with Roger Moutenot), and one that keeps the sprawl under seven minutes.
Opener Ohm is YLT at their Velvets-aping finest, all churning chords spectral harmonies and a percussion-driven rhythm loop. Stupid Things is one of the few songs here that hints at the band fans fell in love with so long ago, and it too reveals hidden complexities on multiple listens. Unlike Superchunk’s critic-uniting blazing return to form in 2011, Fade is more of a humble offering, but one that is richly rewarding.