Veteran Indie Rockers Don’t Fade Away
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 00:01
When you hear a band name like Yo La Tengo, you may jump to a number of conclusions about its musical style. You might guess it produces contrived Spanish pop music or bombastic mariachi madness. In reality, though, Yo La Tengo does nothing of the sort. The Hoboken-based trio has been a critically acclaimed darling of the indie rock scene for decades, churning out album after album of their trademark jams since 1984, and they are back at it for the first time since 2009’s Popular Songs with their new album Fade.
Like much of the group’s past work, Fade is an incredibly balanced album, with relaxed and catchy rhythms creating a uniquely soothing sound that draw in even the most unsure listener. While nothing on Fade remotely resembles the 10-minute guitar riff tracks that bookend their 2006 LP I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, this album does reflect a newly focused thematic continuity that the band has lacked in the past, and this growth is definitely a step in the right direction.
The opening track, “Ohm,” is perhaps the best representation of the new musical and lyrical directions the band has taken, with front-man Ira Kapling crooning, “’Cause this is it for all we know/ So say goodnight to me/ ‘Cause it’s been fun.” While in the past the band has taken its lack of lyrical continuity as a point of pride, Fade, and “Ohm” in particular, shows a new grasp of the impact of meaningful lyrics. Beyond just the lyrics, “Ohm” also best exemplifies the type of mellow, fuzzy accompaniment that most successfully embodies the group’s sound.
What sets this album apart lyrically from those of similar groups on the market is the romantic back-and-forth between Kapling and the group’s drummer and part-time singer Georgia Hubley. The pair has been married in real life for over 25 years, and the lyrics of songs like “Well You Better” and “Is That Enough” reflect the growing maturity of their relationship and the unique strains that long-term relationships can have on any couple. Their marriage may still be strong, but lingering questions of fidelity and pained longing can easily be found just beneath the surface of the seemingly upbeat songs.
The final song on the album, “Before We Run,” is a powerful and triumphant close to the album, with Hubley taking over lead vocals, lending her unique drawl to an uplifting musical backdrop of strings and trumpets. This is where Yo La Tengo really shines: when it can expand its instrumental range beyond just the traditional rock guitar, bass and drums to create a fully realized symphonic fuzz. It brings the band’s style to a whole new level.
Fade is the shortest album Yo La Tengo has produced since 1990’s Fakebook (no relation to Facebook, strange as that may seem today), with the 10 tracks clocking in at just under 46 minutes. The band has successfully managed to cut back on the experimental fluff, which it usually uses to pad the end of its albums, and has crafted a tight and well-balanced record, which should invigorate its traditional fan base and capture a new generation of eager listeners.