Yo La Tengo as a band is older than Jim Morrison ever got to be. Next year, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley will have been playing together under that name for 30 years. James McNew is a relative newcomer, but he has been part of the group since before Justin Bieber was a glint in Beelzebub’s eye. In all that time, they have never even come close to making a record that is less than enjoyable. Yo La Tengo ain’t broke, and don’t need fixing – that much is evident.
There are, however, two aspects to Fade that mark it out from its many, many consistently enjoyable predecessors over the past 20 years. For the first time since 1993, this is a Yo La Tengo record NOT produced by Roger Moutenot. Fade is produced by John McEntire, who is both a member and producer of Tortoise. It is also Yo La Tengo’s shortest album since 2000’s Fakebook – how much of a part McEntire played in that is debatable, but having a new producer at the helm seems to have focused the band. Whoever made the call, there aren’t any of the improvisational excursions that were so prevalent on 2009’s Popular Songs.
That’s not to say the songs are brief – the longest songs on the album are its best. The hypnotic and contagious single ‘Ohm’ stretches a mantra-rhythm, guitar drones, feedback and a handful of words out to nearly seven minutes, but its duration is entirely appropriate.
‘Is That Enough’ and ‘Well You Better’ see Kaplan in familiar speak-sing territory over a sparse melody, the former almost like that of a 70s family sitcom and the latter with cheesy keyboard fills over Hubley’s propulsive drumming. ‘Paddle Forward’ recalls some of the more guitar-laden tracks from 1997’s high water mark LP I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, while lyrically the husband and wife continue to examine the splendours and pitfalls of a long-term relationship without ever getting so specific as to become catharsis or confession.
‘Stupid Things’, the album’s highlight, starts with a painterly flourish of guitar before a hypnotic beat and driving bassline take it somewhere else entirely. “For every stupid thing that happens to you/Every stupid thing I say/Days just fade away, slide into grey/Every little thing just creeps up on you/A bumpy road/Happens every day/And it takes my breath away”, sings Kaplan over the autobahn ambience.
Fade then takes a more introspective musical turn with four acoustic-based and almost percussionless songs doing late-night ennui as only Yo La Tengo know how. It closes in triumphant style, with the six-minute-plus ‘Before We Run’ building to a brass and strings crescendo that will sadly be impossible for the three of them to replicate live, but is a tremendous finale on record.
There aren’t any great surprises here in terms of Yo La Tengo’s style or sound, but Fade is a surprisingly wonderful album.