After thirty years of making music, it’s safe to say that a band like Yo La Tengo has nothing left to prove. They’ve already been able to create the indisputable classics, they’ve been able to showcase a litany of covers that is without a doubt unmatched, they’ve been able to explore each new release as a challenge to create something fresh and terrific; and they’ve done all of this throughout their career with impressive results. On that last point, the New Jersey trio treats each new release as a challenge to create new brilliant music and with their thirteenth album, Fade, it’s another undeniable triumph.
Fortunately, the band is one of those tirelessly working bands that puts out new music in a consistent manner. Back in 2009 the band had just worked on numerous soundtracks where they took their instrumentation to new levels and they were still able to release an album of covers under the moniker Condo Fucks and in the fall they released their twelfth winner, Popular Songs. Finding new mediums to work through, they embraced horns and strings and featured three songs at the end that were all over nine minutes long. With Fade, they’ve come across ten songs that all sound tight and of course, refreshing, against the backdrop of what might be their most consistent album to date.
For starters, Fade is much shorter than their previous album – about thirty minutes shorter – and the same brilliance from before is still prevalent. On “Is That Enough,” the band employs a string orchestra to deliver the melody throughout as the guitars jangle in the background. It sounds like something Beck would craft but given the smooth vocals of Ira Kaplan, it’s another moving Yo La Tengo classic. The following song, “Well You Better” is a short and sweet ditty that features a keyboard and a stabbing guitar as the keys highlight the brevity of it all. Singing about how decisions are best when they’re snap judgments, Kaplan sounds at home with the music’s playfulness. These moments of clarity are paramount and they appear all over Fade’s progress.
The overall theme of Fade is very much in line with its title as songs tend to flicker – much like a candle light fades in and out of focus. On “Cornelia and Jane” Georgia Hubley takes over the lead vocals and she sounds like the shadow of Trish Keenan with her near-spectral tendencies. What sounds like a French horn (maybe an English horn) is heard throughout and the music slowly burns in response; even as it appears like it will all fade away, Hubley’s voice is the torch-bearer: incandescent and pure. It’s apparent the band learned a lot from their days of scoring movies and they can now take control of full instrumentation when it comes to their own music. The closing song, “Before We Run,” combines both singers’ voices for a ruminating breakthrough that finds horns, strings and more. Its presence is cemented when the chorus reigns and a baritone sax is heard delivering a counter harmony; it’s sensible and fitting and yet, inventively original.
But perhaps that’s always been the story with Yo La Tengo: a band that helped invent the ‘indie’ label that somehow and someway, still knows how to bestow it. Rather than employing the same bag of tricks each time out, they’ve come across new ways of being able to deliver such remarkable music. Even after thirty years, many bands wish they could arrive at that point; Yo La Tengo is not only there but still killing it.