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‘Fade’ Is Commendable For Its Modesty And Meaning

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 23:01

If Hoboken, New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s not your fault. The group has eluded the mainstream musical atmosphere for much of its nearly 30-year career, while at the same time garnering a loyal cult fan base.

During this time, Yo La Tengo has quietly released 13 studio albums, complemented by a slew of separate recordings (the band is notorious for its collection of cover songs). This week marks the release of their latest LP, Fade, a 45-minute offering of layered, pensive tracks that tackle the themes of emotions and aging.

The backbone of the group consists of guitarist/vocalist Ira Kaplan and his wife, Georgia Hubley, on percussion and vocals. Assisting the couple is bassist James McNew. While small, the band can hardly be considered short of staff—the trio capably makes honest and deep music with the skill of any talented five-piece band.

Fade’s sound is a blend of bright and clean melodies accompanied by fuzzy, droning rhythms in the background. Heavily distorted guitars and synthesizers make up the brunt of this noise. Except it isn’t really noise, as it provides a certain robustness to the songs, one that helps mold the band’s musical identity.

Fade starts out loud and lively. The almost seven-minute opening track, “Ohm,” is arguably the most chipper in the album, putting the “rock” in indie rock. Imagine jogging through a field on a sunny day. “Ohm” sounds exactly like what you’d hear while running through dirt trails with the heat gently beating down your head.

Other short and sweet numbers include “Well You Better”—with Kaplan caressing the microphone while a peppy guitar/synth combo wrap the song in a catchy aura—and “Paddle Forward,” a driving tune that’s perfect to listen to while riding in the car with the top down.

Fade shows its muted versatility in tracks like “Is That Enough,” adding color to the fuzzy feedback with a string section that’s just plain pleasant. “I’ll Be Around,” a lovely acoustic song where Kaplan’s whispery lyrics struggle to leave his mouth, strips the record of all the noise.

Halfway through the record, both the speed and the decibels begin to dwindle, giving way to the softer and more reflective half of the album. “Cornelia and Jane” puts Hubley in the spotlight, as her careful voice graces listeners’ ears over a subtle, perpetual bass line. Fade requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. Its first impression is that of a short, well-done record, but there’s more to discover here. It’s after a couple of run-throughs that one begins to appreciate all the small details—guitar melodies here, bass lines there, a particularly meaningful lyric in every song.

It’s easy to mistake Yo La Tengo as one of the myriad young bands attempting to make waves in the indie rock scene. This is a compliment, however, because it serves as proof that the group has hardly aged. At the same time, it’s apparent that, after nearly three decades of music, Yo La Tengo have settled down and produced an album that is more refined and restrained than their previous efforts. Fade is not the type of record that requires pages of praise. It’s a modest and pleasant LP by a band that has cemented its place among its genre’s elite. What’s more, it has accomplished this without elaborate or raucous fanfare, which truly speaks to the band and its music’s personality.

It appears that, despite passing through musical middle age, Yo La Tengo is not ready to fade away just yet.

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