Fade upholds band's quality

After 27 years of music making, there is really only one question that accompanies the release of a new Yo La Tengo album: Will this be the Yo La Tengo that thrives in guitar freak-outs and stylistic eclecticism, or the Yo La Tengo that meticulously crafts gentle, quiet, introspective love songs? Regarding Fade, Yo La Tengo’s 13th album, the answer is a lot less trivial than it initially appears.

On first listen, Fade seems to fall into the latter category. The album as a whole radiates serenity, even on the energetic high-point song “Well You Better.” Probably the tightest song on the album, it features almost-laconic sounding vocals from Ira Kaplan, perseverating on relationship issues over a looping rhythm section and off-kilter “wah-wahs.” Songs like “I’ll Be Around” and “Two Trains” most wholly capture the same hushed, late-night-car-ride atmosphere that Yo La Tengo has been channeling since the release of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

It’s tempting to simply call Fade the logical successor to And Then Nothing and Summer Sun, but frankly it’s not. The stylistic assimilation and subtle instrumentation changes in Fade signal not simply a retread of the band’s post-2000 output, but an integration of the soft Yo La Tengo with the loud Yo La Tengo.

This can be seen from the very beginning of the album. “Ohm” begins with a percussive groove before Kaplan begins singing and adding in some reverbed guitar. Over the course of the song, the amount of feedback and noise gradually builds before becoming the most prevalent aspect of the song, which transforms not only the sound of the song but the implications of the lyrics. The phrase “So say good night to me / And lose no more time / No time / Resisting the flow” is repeated throughout the sonic dissonance. The significance changes from narrative to an anchor of familiarity in the midst of an ever-changing soundscape.

Unfortunately, Fade does not feature any of the long-form experimental tracks that have been a hallmark of the Yo La Tengo sound, which is part of the reason that this is the band’s shortest release since Fakebook in the 1990s. The noisy, extended jams of the band’s earlier albums were always captivating and rarely bloated. While the absence of these longer trackers from Fade is more than a bit disappointing, the focus on shorter, more self-contained songs has resulted in one of the indie stalwart’s most cohesive, consistent albums to date.

Fade is much like Dinosaur Jr.’s I Bet on Sky and The Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth in that there are no real surprises here. That is not only okay, but almost preferable. Yo La Tengo may have passed its creative apex, but the quality of its music has not decreased. This album is Yo La Tengo at the most comfortable it’s ever been with itself, and the fact that the band is still making enjoyable and exciting music after 27 years is venerable.

Even though this band was a key factor in shaping indie rock and the culture of college radio stations, it has never broken through to the mainstream. You probably won’t hear any of the album’s songs on the radio, but the legacy of the band that made it will outlast most any other artist currently making music.