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Yo La Tengo – Fade

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Yo La Tengo’s utter predictability has in no way affected their standing, either in the eyes of critics or their small, devoted fan-base. Their run of albums since 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One have all been as rewarding as they have been familiar, the band exploring the same handful of ideas with no sense of diminishing returns.

At this stage of the game, you could just about write a Yo La Tengo album review without hearing a note. You know that Georgina Hubley and Ira Kaplan’s vocals will bounce off each other in that sweet, marital way of theirs; you know that that there will be moments of frail beauty; you know there will be some twee-as-fuck organ licks; and you sure as hell know that there will be some squealing, white-noise guitar jams.

However, there are a few minor differences on Fade, which is more reigned-in than recent efforts with fewer wig-outs and more balladry. Though not quite as ornate as 2009’s Popular Songs, Fade is coloured by occasional string and brass arrangements. These arrangements are particularly prominent in the hushed back half of Fade, which. Meanwhile, the opening half covers the noisier end of the Yo La Tengo spectrum, from the ‘we pretty much invented this’ indie rock of ‘Paddle Forward’ to the long-form motorik of ‘Stupid Things’.

Leading off with ‘Ohm’ is a typically quiet, confident move. Six-and-a-half minutes is a long time to be chugging away on a single chord, but it works: The plain-sung vocals come on like a Zen nursery rhyme, touching on Karma, Tao and nihilism, and Kaplan brings it home with a vintage, gnarled solo. On paper, it simply isn’t enough to sustain interest, but on record, the band own their material, achieving the trance-like state that the title hints at.

It’s 21 years since James McNew joined Kaplan and Hubley on bass, and every month is apparent in the familiarity between the three, the utter ease and the interplay that defines their working relationship. In short, Fade is Chapter XIII in the ongoing Yo La Tengo success story. It would be getting boring by now – if they weren’t so consistently, maddeningly, casually great, that is.

8/10 stars

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