Yo La Tengo | Fade (Matador)

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cd yo-la-tengoWith Fade, Yo La Tengo’s vision only grows brighter

 

Yo La Tengo, the elder statesmen of the American underground, approach a career milestone of sorts with the release of their 13th studio album, Fade. Their previous outing, 2009’s Popular Songs, found the group embracing tighter, more user-friendly arrangements. Conciseness was, ironically, an experiment in-and-of-itself for YLT, but they were sure to throw in plenty of their signature feedback-laden guitar freak-outs for good measure.

After tackling nearly every sound imaginable (including the early folk-pop outing Fakebook and a DIY detour as the Condo Fucks), one might expect Yo La Tengo to follow Alexander the Great’s lead, weeping, for there are no more worlds to conquer. Certainly, it would be more than reasonable to give a group on the verge of their third decade of recording a little slack. But then again, most groups aren’t like the Hoboken powerhouse that is Yo La Tengo, and Fade reaches the very same standard of excellence that listeners have come to expect from American indie’s most consistent band. Fade is a sprawling set that is as ambitious as it is appealing, as YLT seems to embrace pop-friendliness with less apprehension than on Popular Songs.

A constantly shifting listen, Fade is unique entry in Yo La Tengo’s colored discography in that it seems to attempt a different genre on every track, and with a remarkable degree of consistency, at that. As the first YLT album since early masterpiece Painful that was not recorded with producer Roger Moutenot, perhaps the change in personnel can partly explain the shift in dynamic.

The album begins with the enticingly psychedelic “Ohm,” backing swirling, acid-tinged guitars against James McNew and Ira Kaplan’s hazy chanting. It’s an excellent introduction to the album, a Sanskrit verse away from being a Kula Shaker cut.

After the fog has cleared, the group pedals back for “Is That Enough,” which harkens back to the group’s Fakebook-era folk pop, with McNew’s twangy vocals and honky-tonk strings intersected with chunky guitar feedback. Meanwhile, the irresistible “Well You Better” casts McNew as a subdued R&B singer, framing his mutterings between wah-wah funk guitars and soulful slabs of Memphis organ.

The naked, mellow folk of “I’ll Be Around” is another standout, sounding like something a more adventurous Samuel Beam (Iron & Wine) would attempt given the striking similarity in his and McNew’s understated deliveries. Yo La Tengo’s love of obscure folk and soul nuggets is well established, but their influences have rarely been so seamlessly woven as they are here.

The final third of Fade finds YLT retreating into comparatively more familiar territory. The Georgia Hubley-led “Cornelia & Jane” and “Two Trains” (which is not, in fact, a Little Feat cover) finds YLT harkening back to the droning dream pop of albums like Electr-O-Pura and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. A horn section and string quartet surge alongside Hubley for the epic closer “Running Away from Me,” an impressive piece that recalls the grandiosity of “Popular Songs.”

By refining and expanding their trademarks while venturing into several excellent genre excursions, Fade marks yet another triumph for indie rock stalwarts Yo La tengo. By all accounts, a band nearly 30 years into its career should not sound as determined, original and engaging as YLT does here. But even without the burden of history, Fade remains an excellent and essential listen, proving yet again that a new Yo La Tengo release is still something to make a fuss about. B+ | David Von Nordheim

Yo La Tengo will be performing with Calexico at The Pageant in St. Louis on January 31, 2013. If that sentence didn’t make you squeal with delight, you’re probably on the wrong website.

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