Being a Yo La Tengo fan takes a little bit of patience, since they release a new album about once every three years. That’s not to say they stay out of sight. If anything, 2012 was one of their biggest years. Although they didn’t release an album last year, Yo La Tengo were the subject of a book, Big Day Coming, that chronicled their career as the centerpiece of the rise of indie rock (sadly, the book is sitting in a stack a dozen high with other titles I haven’t gotten to yet). And as is their tradition, the band played its annual Hanukkah run at Maxwell’s in their hometown of Hoboken, NJ, and fellow Jersey indie bands the Feelies (a YLT contemporary) and Real Estate (the latest Jersey indie torchbearer).
While Yo La Tengo are still on my bucket list of bands to see, since I had too many work conflicts to see those Hanukkah shows (not to mention that from where I live Hoboken might as well be Harrisburg), I’ve had their thirteenth studio album, Fade, at the top of my year’s most anticipated release list.
The good news is, as usual, I’m not disappointed. Indeed, I think Fade‘s their strongest album since 2003’s Summer Sun with a sound that reminds me of their other classics, 1997’s I Can Hear the Heat Beating As One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.
By Yo La Tengo standards, it’s relatively short, clocking in at just over 45 minutes. Gone are the 10+ minute long explorations of sound. Fade is booked ended by the only two tracks over 6 minutes and has the same number of tracks under 3 minutes. This helps the record immensely, as I’ve tended to tune out on some of the extended forays on their recent releases.
The record kicks of with “Ohm”, as the title suggests, it’s hypnotic beat overlaid with typical hushed vocals and plenty guitar feedback and distortion. From the moment I first heard it, “Ohm” wrapped itself around my cortex like one of those slugs in the Star Trek movies and hasn’t let go. While Ira Kaplan sings “nothing ever stays the same” this track is classic Yo La Tengo.
The next track, “Is That Enough” is a little slice of pop romance heaven, with fuzz guitar in the background and luscious strings up front with Ira plaintively singing “all that matters for me is you,Is that enough?” It’s gorgeous.
After bouncing pop of “Well You Better” and the feedback drenched wonder of “Paddle Forward”, Fade, well, fades into the dreamy state you think of pre-dawn mornings, or, as I write this, long late night flights. It’s that drowsy, where am I, lost in translation feeling that wraps you in a trance before picking back up with the horn and strings fueled finale, “Before We Run”, that reminds me of a song you’d hear as movie credits roll.
The record for me has a slightly elegiac feel and I love it. I don’t think there’s been a Yo La Tengo album that I haven’t enjoyed, but Fade‘s tight, cohesive structure leaves me wanting more. As I said, I think it’s their best album since Summer Sun. It’s early in 2013, but I suspect you’re going to see Fade on a lot of mid and year-end best of lists. It’ll certainly be on mine.