They’re getting close to their 30th anniversary and still Yo La Tengo hasn’t made a dud. Okay, so there are albums that really stand out in their catalogue – but just as often I’m struck by the overall consistency. This is one dependable band. Thirty years in this day and age is like sixty. But on the band goes, aging gracefully without ever really trying to do exactly that. (Or without being concerned about it at any rate).
On first listen – beyond a half-dozen pretty, happy, lovely, slightly fuzzy/hazy songs – you might be a little upset to find no big wig-outs; no 10-minute songs that build into a giant jam, or start off in the wake of an explosion and eventually tunnel back to the heart of a pop song. No, not this time. The songs are shorter, if not sharper. They still colour over the lines, scribbling into place a pretty melody that pokes through the noise of what you could easily pass off to many listeners as a Velvet Underground offcut.
You get the feeling that Yo La Tengo songs have always existed – you can spot all the influences/references and that’s a valid reason to just put on one of the records and sit with it, listening for the sport of it as much as anything. But you could also believe that all the songs were built at the start of the band’s career and then they just wait a few years before picking a selection to scatter across a record.
Of course I mean all of that positively, when in fact so many people would interpret that as calculated fan-boy music – and one of the reasons to turn away from this favourite amongst critics. There’s no cynicism in what Yo La Tengo does. They just have the formula; the not-so-secret secret. Yet somehow, whenever you hear it, a new batch of songs, a new album, you are reminded that it all sounds like fresh magic. Again and again, every time.
Fade is beautiful. And timeless.
And it sounds – of course – like Yo La Tengo. There are bits that are reminiscent of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass (though that record also enjoyed the big wig-out moments mentioned earlier). But more likely Fade rubs shoulders alongside 2003’s Summer Sun and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. Beguiling records. On Fade you could imagine, somewhere around the third track, staring off into space – the space that exists within a set of Yo La Tengo songs, most often – and not returning for three or four songs. Those songs providing the perfect soundtrack to your thoughts.
There’s something hypnotic in the slowly-forming grooves, the perfectness that defines this band, just the right kind of tight and the correct form of sloppy.
Fade will only get better across several other listens. But it’s already the best album of 2013. And though it might seem churlish to say – or at best redundant – I have a feeling it’s the best album of Yo La Tengo’s career. For me anyway.