A Little Lackluster
Fade is an appropriate title for New Jersey natives Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth studio album. After more than two and a half decades and a dozen records, countless line-up changes, and label switches, the band seems to be stretching itself a little thin. Yo La Tengo’s albums have been praised for maintaining an understated air, but this one is more underwhelming than subtle.
But that isn’t to say Fade doesn’t show promise. The album’s opener “Ohm” begins with light layers of percussion, tapping gently to introduce a shambling guitar and Ira Kaplan’s low-key vocals. The track earns its title, too: Kaplan sings “nothing ever stays the same” like a calming mantra, fading into a freestyling guitar jam reminiscent of the band’s older material. “Stupid Things” forms another of the album’s pillars; it begins with a solo guitar playing a slightly jazzy, classical melody. Behind the warm melody, a heavy, buzzing bass and percussion sneak in, picking up speed. Kaplan’s harmonic sensibilities come expertly into play here, blending the disparate sounds into one melodic whole, and making it seem effortless at that.
And while Fade isn’t really innovative or exciting, it’s always easy, enjoyable listening. “Is That Enough” is a pleasant, relaxed song that could have taken its light, poppy sound and strings right out of a Motown track, and “Well You Better” has the faintly quirky syncopated beats, bright synths, and twangy guitar accents so familiar to Belle & Sebastian fans. There’s also the comforting folk of “I’ll Be Around,” with its warm, hypnotic acoustic guitar.
It’s difficult for a band with so much material, and so much musical baggage, to escape the shadow of its past successes and do something new and different, and it seems Yo La Tengo might be in just this predicament. But this is a band that’s always striven for experimentation, for a unique and sometimes eccentric sound. And there are hints of this on Fade—see, for example, the hints of wailing steel guitar and muted trumpets on “Cornelia and Jane,” and the spacey synths on “Two Trains.” Here’s to hoping Yo La Tengo does anything but fade away.