Yo La Tengo is one of the most beloved and respected bands in America. For nearly thirty years, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew have enjoyed success entirely on their own terms – travelling the world, dominating critics lists, doing a Simpsons theme, playing the Velvet Underground in I Shot Andy Warhol, even creating a holiday tradition onto themselves with their yearly series of Hanukkah shows at Hoboken, New Jersey’s legendary club Maxwells.
Their track record has been so stellar, their consistency so weirdly effortless, that it’s sometimes a little too easy to take them for granted. Do not make that mistake with Fade. If ever a Yo La Tengo record “mattered” - musically, emotionally, even historically - this is that record.
Fade is the most richly textured, thematically cohesive album of the band’s career. Sonically, it recalls high-points like 1997’s I Can Feel the Heart Beating As One and 2000’s …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out - a tapestry of fine melody and elegant noise, rhythmic shadow-play and shy-eyed orchestral beauty, songfulness and experimentation.
But Fade attains a lyrical universality and hard-won sense of grandeur that’s rare even for them. It weaves themes of aging, personal tragedy and the emotional bonds that keep us sane in times of crisis into a fully-realized whole that recalls career-defining statements like 'Blood On the Tracks' or 'Call Me' or 'I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight'.
“Nothing ever stays the same / Nothing’s explained”, the band sing in unison on the lushly reflective opening track 'Ohm', then add, "We try not to lose our hearts / Not to lose our minds". It’s a very direct sentiment for a band who usually prefer private intimation to forceful expression, and that’s exactly what makes the song’s sense of struggle-against-resignation feel that much more earned.
This is the first time Yo La Tengo have worked with producer John McEntire, best known for his essential Chicago post-rock band Tortoise as well as his work on great albums by diverse artists from Bright Eyes to Stereolab to the Spinanes. He’s helped the band hone a set of songs as richly diverse as they are seamlessly sequenced - flowing from the low-key shimmy of 'Well, You Better' to the autumnal Sixties melodicism of 'Is That Enough' to the muted motorik kick of “Stupid Things” to the cozy-duvet distortion of 'Kiwi,' right on through to the cagey groove, horns and strings of the beautiful album-ending ‘Before We Run', in which Hubley and Kaplan sing “Take me to your distant lonely place / Take me out beyond mistrust.”
If you’ve got the guts to go with them, you won’t be let down.