Yo La Tengo
Fade
Matador Records
B+
1/15/13
By Andrew Eckhous

Fade

B+
Yo La Tengo
Matador


Being labeled a “critic’s band” is usually indicative of a few things. One is that the band will be artistic, adventurous and voracious in its experimentation. The other is that they will probably be underappreciated, if not unpopular. Yo La Tengo, the old man river of ’90s lo-fi, definitely falls into that category.

Making consistently enjoyable music for almost three decades now, Yo La Tengo has mastered its art, and the level of comfort is evident on Fade, its newest release. The group’s 13th album is an authentic and well-executed collection of songs that spans nearly every musical style it has performed, creating an album reminiscent of a time before the blogosphere. Yo La Tengo may not wow you with unfettered energy or EDM-inspired beats, but lead singer Ira Kaplan’s unassuming voice has the confidence of someone who has done it all before.

“Ohm,” the six-minute album opener, epitomizes the album’s theme of accepting life’s uncertainty with its first two lines: “sometimes the bad guys go right on top/ sometimes the good guys lose.” It isn’t a defeatist couplet, but rather an acknowledgment that, sometimes, shit goes wrong. Sometimes the Lions go 10-6, sometimes they go 4-12, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Throughout Fade, Yo La Tengo, which translates to “I have it” in Spanish, does seem to have it. The album is an even-keeled existentialist anthem, recalling the unorthodox Zen of Jeff Lebowski.

The opening track is followed by “Is That Enough,” a country-western ditty dedicated to what sounds like a rather disagreeable ex. Half “I’m glad you dumped me” and half “sour grapes,” “Is That Enough” encapsulates the internal battle between heart and brain that is an essential part of human relationships. It’s a song sung with the insight that (hopefully) comes with age, and at 56, Kaplan has picked up a few pearls of wisdom.

The album’s best and most authentic moment comes at the very end. “The Point of It,” Fade’s final track, is Kaplan’s wise answer to the implied question, “What’s the point?” In what is undoubtedly a love song to his wife and fellow band mate Georgia Hubley, Kaplan softly sings, “If we’re getting old / If we’re not so strong / If our story’s told / That’s the point of it,” over slowly building chords. Kaplan opens Fade with thoughts about the inherent unfairness of the world, but ends with the belief that everything will be just fine.

Yo La Tengo has drifted through its stellar career under the radar, and it’s okay with that. The music the group makes is always thought provoking and original and has no need to change in order to prove itself. Yo La Tengo has created a standard of excellence for itself over the past three decades, and Fade is another reliable entry into that canon. It may not be the greatest album Yo La Tengo has ever made, but Fade is another example of Ira Kaplan’s Zen outlook on life — which definitely seems to be working for him.

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