Yo La Tengo: Fade
“Sometimes the bad guys come out on top. Sometimes the good guys lose. We try not to lose our hearts, not to lose our minds.” Imagine such a lyric on a band’s first album. Most fresh, young voices would romanticize the plight and proselytize the triumph of the heart’s will in the face of adversity. Such honesty could only come from hard-won experience. That is the lyric with which Yo La Tengo kicks off Fade, because, nearly thirty years into their career, Yo La Tengo has that experience. Upon the release of their thirteenth album, Yo La Tengo are not as well known as they should be. They’ve accepted it and in that acceptance is couched a weird flavor of optimism. And why shouldn’t they be optimistic? They’ve spent a whole career camped cozily in the overlap between dive bar denizens and the high-minded museum set. They’ve composed a theme for The Simpsons, played the Velvet Underground on film, and, for all intents and purposes, wrote the book on indie-cool. They hold the mythical status of your-favorite-band’s-favorite-band, and not just in PR-hypespeak. Just check out the star power behind #YoLaFade on Twitter. While Yo La Tengo is not a household name in the proper sense, Yo La Tengo is, in fact, the real deal.
While the New Jersey three piece has been remarkably consistent over the years, Fade marks a return to the greatness they achieved on their 1997 classic I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Once again, Yo La Tengo proves its penchant for electrifying quiet moments, filling them up. There is barely a corner of Fade that isn’t full of sound, but the texture is natural and doesn’t rob the songs of their intimacy. Rather, it invigorates them. In the buzz of the pick-up, the rubbing of fingers on strings, the stickiness of an opening mouth, Yo La Tengo finds their transcendence.
Fade is touted as the band’s most cohesive to date. There is a great deal of truth to that claim. The albums through line arrives in the form of introspection and self-assessment. Stylistically, they convey that introspection in a variety of creative ways. It is conveyed most interestingly on “I’ll Be Around,” on which Ira Kaplan sings dangerously close to the mic, as if he is a level above the music, observing it, rather than participating in it. The effect is jarring. On the whole, Fade plays like an explanation for – and celebration of – an already storied career. Yo La Tengo may not have the recognition they deserve, but, ultimately, they are doing it for themselves and they seem grateful for the opportunity to do it at all. As Kaplan sings on Fade’s second track, “if that matters, it’s to very few. And all that matters for me is you.”
MP3: Yo La Tengo “Paddle Forward”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl