Yo La Tengo is the kind of band that makes me beam with pride to be from New Jersey. Forming in Hoboken during the mid-80s, the group has released twelve records, fourteen EPs, numerous singles and collaborations, two soundtracks and a cover album. So if you’re a late fan, you can at least take comfort in the realization that there is a pretty large back-catalogue to sift through between this release and their next one. That is, if you can manage to put down their newest release, Fade.
There seem to be unanimous rave reviews for the album’s opener, “Ohm.” Distant hand drums guide us into a thick fog of shakers, drums, fuzzy guitars, and background vocals. It would be dense if not for a carefully restrained guitar, which provides enough air between the layers for the melody to rise up and float to the tips of your ears. Only then does the guitar solo crash down and fade into the air pockets, dragging it back down to earth. Other highlights of the A side are “Well You Better,” an effortlessly cool dance track that messes around with an organ in all the right places and “Is That Enough,” a sweet, unassuming walk-in-the-sun tune with a darker growling buzz folding and swirling underneath. It sounds a lot like Belle & Sebastian and My Bloody Valentine are neighbors in an apartment with very thin walls.
The only complaint I’ve heard about this album is that the second side seems to drag a bit more than the first. Although there is some truth to that, the close softness of songs like “Cornelia and Jane” and “The Point of It” reveal a tender side of the album, due to the almost complete lack of percussion. If there is any track that lags a little, it would be ‘Two Trains” which drains the life out of a psychedelic repetition of swirly little “doo doo doos.” Still, it’s a pleasant enough combination of sounds and makes an excellent track to add to your hangover playlist.
If you thought you were bored after that, the now-expected grand finale closer will wake you up. “Before We Run” brings us back to the skyline strings of “Is That Enough,” but the growly fuzz is replaced with a deep horn double note repetition that gives the song a platform from which to take off. It soars, clear over the tree on the album’s cover.
If anything surprised me after reading about Yo La Tengo, it is that on each record, it feels like they are still striving to give us the best record possible. If I had not known anything about the band, I would guess that they were fairly new, still giddy to use every instrument and technique they could get their hands on to deliver their best material. In a few ways, Fade reminds me of McCartney, Paul’s first solo release, days after leaving the Beatles. It displays the group’s mastery of genre and style giving us a smorgasbord of instrumentation. Except with Fade, there are no fragments, instrumentals or need to prove anything to a skeptical audience. There is only a solid ability, almost three decades in the making, to produce a string of jazz, folk, smash, fuzz, pop perfection.