Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Yo La Tengo - Fade

Ira Kaplan told Pitchfork that ‘Fade’ is the New Jersey trio’s attempt to ‘Cut down on some of the sprawl’ after 2009’s ‘Popular Songs’, which featured not just one, but three tracks clocking in at 10 minutes apiece. However as this trilogy represented some of their most interesting and atmospheric material to date ‘Fade’ initially feels like something of a step backwards, with the New Jerseyites slipping comfortably back into the sort of material they’ve covered in their previous two decades of existence.

Lead single ‘Ohm’ still rings in at almost 7 minutes so it’s not as if they’re trimming the material down for the sake of radio play or accessibility, this edited version of the Yo La Tengo modus operandi is purely a stylistic choice. Named after the unit of electrical resistance, it pushes against the confines of the rock single with a simple circling melody that swallows you like a familiar old shirt and with lines like ‘Sometimes the good guys lose’ it feels like a suitably downbeat manifesto for the album as a whole.

At their finest Yo La Tengo sounded like Arthur Lee’s Love, past masters of meshing the excursive with pop classicism, being covered by Sonic Youth. Disappointingly there’s little of Kaplan’s minimal, perfectly formed soloing here. In the past it was his fuzz-bomb licks that animated Yo La Tengo’s poppier moments but on ‘Fade’ the trio immerse themselves in a mixed bag of meandering ballads and swampy keyboards. Drummer, Georgina Hubley’s ‘Cornelia and Jane’ is a delicate piece of melancholy, sounding like a 2am answer to Beth Orton. It’s companion piece ‘Two Trains’ uses Dylanesque imagery of life ‘before the fall / before the flood’ but the track drifts so aimlessly that it’s hard to get worked up about whatever it is that concerns Kaplan.

Elsewhere there’s a sweet melancholy to the folksy guitar melody of ‘I’ll Be Around’ and it’s lyrics ‘stare at this space looking for you’ and lost love seems to be a prominent theme here but emotional catharsis aside, it’s the unexpected moments here which are the most exciting.

Opening with steady clipping drums ‘Before We Run’ is lifted skywards by mournful brass and sudden bursts of string; the sparse, solid drums alone give it a feeling of humanity which eclipses anything that preceded it and for a moment you can feel the warmth that makes the trio so special. The problem with ‘Fade’ is that whilst it should consolidate their position in the upper echelons of traditionalist indie-rock but it’s doesn’t exactly point the way forward. Three years ago, ‘Popular Songs’ featured a cover image of a tape unspooling. It would be a shame if Yo La Tengo were to do the same.


Max Sefton

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