Yo La Tengo: Fade

yoyoThere are certain bands that just always straddle the line between consistently great and consistently competent. Spoon is one of those bands. So is Yo La Tengo. A quick Google search and you’ll find that YLT has been making albums for over 27 years, and out of those 27 years they’ve rarely achieved genius. Oh sure, there are smatterings of genius all over their catalogue, at least 3 songs per album, and almost never anything bad. Out of their 12 (now 13, as of today) proper albums only 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One ranks as a perfect album from start to finish. Of course my subjective opinion means nothing to the legions of “Tengo-heads” that swear they’re the best thing since the V.U. And I have to admit that every single album I have heard (about 75% of their discography) has been really good, so what’s my beef? No beef, really; the music world needs ‘competent’. I just hear so much potential in YLT that every time they release a new album I am disappointed that it’s not a blow-my-doors-off fantastic LP. One of the reasons is that this band has been totally unable, or unwilling, to self edit their records. CD’s can hold 80 minutes of music and they’re gonna use it all, dammit! So naturally there’s filler on each in between the moments of greatness, and that’s frustrating.

So long story short, YLT’s new album, Fade, gets released today and I buy it. Throw it on, look at the album tracks on the back and…whoa…only 10 tracks, and nothing over 6 minutes or so! A little quick addition and I surmise that the whole thing only amounts to maybe a tad under 50 minutes in length. I think of two possibilities: one, that they did, in fact, self-edit and I’m in for a treat; or two, that they just didn’t have enough quality material. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it through only one and a half times, but so far…so far…I’m diggin’ it; especially the energetic first half, which contains perhaps their poppiest moment of all in Well You Better. The second half is more, well, introspective and may or may not grow on me yet. So far so good, but I’ll reserve judgment on it’s place until I’ve digested it a few more times. So far I’d have to say it’s…competent.

Here’s a complete review from Allmusic: At album number 13, Yo La Tengo are an institution unto themselves, having perfected their craft of slow-burning, unassumingly insular indie rock in incremental baby steps since their formation in 1984. Almost three decades of building a language of wistfully melodic guitar rock without becoming redundant is no small feat, and Fade rises to the unique challenge by striking a middle ground between new territory and recalling YLT‘s finest hours. Fade is the first album for the band not recorded with producer Roger Moutenot, who had worked with the group on everything they put to tape since their 1993 breakthrough, Painful. The ten songs here were recorded instead with Chicago scene veteran John McEntire (Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Gastr del Sol, etc.) at his Soma studios, and while his influence on the album isn’t overwhelming, there are touches of his affinity for orchestration, such as the gleaming strings and horn arrangements on album closer “Before We Run” and the distant trombone on “Cornelia and Jane.” Mostly, regardless of production, Fade comes across as almost self-referential before it recalls other reference points, coming closest to the sound and overall feel of their 1997 masterpiece, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The whispery vocals and bed of guitar textures on “Stupid Things” and the extended percussive jamming of “Ohm” definitely seem informed by territory the band was exploring around that era, though the album on a whole lacks any of the spiky rockers that broke up the lush softness on ICHTHBAO. The gentle and romantic wash of sounds that characterizes much of Fade is more in keeping with the band’s chilled-out 2003 album Summer Sun, with graceful exploration of different sounds all reined in before they spin into distortion or clamor. Even the slinky groove and weird wah-wah tones of “Well You Better” are subdued, offering a relatively mellow peak in energy. The album’s lazy, sunshiny demeanor borders on sleepy at times, but those listening closely will pick up on the subtle shifts in instrumentation and colorful production shifts that the band has grown to excel at over the years. The fingerpicked acoustic guitar and harmonium drones of “I’ll Be Around” fade into the spaced-out drum machine pulse of “Two Trains” without spectacle, and the entire album blends in a similar, pleasant way. This fluidity and cohesion is what drives the songs on Fade to stand stronger as a unified mood, and one that grows more satisfying with repeat listens. By this point, Yo La Tengo have developed not just a style, but a voice of their own so distinct that the deeper the details go determines how strong the album can be. Fade is rich with details and grows richer the closer one looks.