Not Fade Away

Album Review - Yo La Tengo - Fade (release: January 15, 2013 on Matador Records)

The new album Fade from Yo La Tengo has landed into my life at just the right time. With the taste of Christmas cooking sherry still fresh in my mouth and feeling weighed down by draconian New Year’s resolutions, I needed something to lift me out of the doldrums. This slow-burning collection of indie shoegaze is my antidote to the January blues.

The trio from Hoboken, New Jersey have crafted an album of introspective but quietly uplifting music. They distill the feeling that yes, life may be crap, but there are plenty of moments of joy and beauty if you look closely. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew have been releasing impeccable albums for almost 30 years now.  That’s fairly old in band or canine years so it comes as no surprise that this album often deals with aging and regrets. Still, this is a collection of mostly bittersweet songs with gorgeous layers of fuzzy garage pop, orchestral brass sections, pyschedelia and classic shoegaze.

The album opens with the psychedelic “Ohm”. Yo La Tengo makes the depressing statement “Nothing ever stays the same, nothing is ever explained” sound like a life-affirming mantra. Indie music can often seem centred around the next big “buzz band” but Yo La Tengo artfully demonstrates how an enlightened perspective can come from growing older. While still having a distinctive YLT sound on this album, they experiment with musical styles and resist stagnating like many bands do in their later years. Making compelling and fresh music after three decades together is no paltry achievement.

There is a lot to savour here, from the sweet retro pop of “Well You Better” with its dinky keyboards and scuzzy drums, to “Is That Enough”, which could be an easy-listening orchestral hit in an alternate universe. I will admit I was left a little underwhelmed after the first listen to Fade. I didn’t think it had any of the standout tracks that made 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out so masterful. But Fade works its way under your skin in the end. It is the little moments that make YLT lyrically so affecting. Songs skewer the everyday minutiae of relationships and ordinary suburban life.  The unadorned plain-spoken vocals of Kaplan and Hubley make the songs seem so personal, but they also capture a lot of universal feelings that are difficult to articulate.

One of my favourite tracks, “Stupid Things”, seems to celebrate the simultaneous boredom and comfort of a long-term relationship. The “stupid things that happen to you / the silly things I say” may seem inconsequential to outsiders but totally captures the little world a couple creates. It’s romantic but not overly sentimental. There are no grand declarations of love or overwrought metaphors here. Just like in real life, love and friendship is revealed in underwhelming everyday actions. There are no promises of burning with love for a thousand years just that “I’ll be around to pick up your phone”. This album probably isn’t going to rock your world but it may remind you on a gloomy winter morning that things are really not as bad as they seem.

YLT have released a video for “Ohm” which depicts a sped-up day in the life of a tree. It is beautifully understated, just like this album. Check it out:

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