Saturday, March 16, 2013

Not Fade Away: Yo La Tengo

According to Wikipedia, Yo La Tengo formed in 1984, and has been recording albums under that moniker with the same personnel since 1992.  Nearly all of their albums have been critical hits, but for some reason the band has never  penetrated my consciousness with any regularity.  The first album of theirs that I bought was 1990's "Fakebook," an acoustic outing that turned out to be almost entirely different than the rest of their catalog.  I've bought one or two others, including their anthology, but for the most part they've been a band that I respected more than actively enjoyed.

I'm not even sure what possessed me to buy "Fade," their new album released in January.  It may have been some enthusiastic tweets from Michele Catalano, or the A- that Christgau awarded the album on his Expert Witness blog.  But whatever the reason, I'm glad that I did because "Fade" is clearly the record to beat for 2013 album of the year, a consistently strong work that strikes a perfect tone from its very first chords and maintains that tone throughout, when the album fades out behind a "joyful cacophony" of guitar, bass, drums, strings, and horns.

It's a very modest album, reminiscent of Jack White's "Blunderbuss" in that guitarist Ira Kaplan never feels the need to show off his chops in a "listen at me, I'm an underappreciated guitar genius!" kind of way.  The music is beautiful, an atmospheric mix that bands like Grizzly Bear (and even, forgive me, Bon Iver) could only hope to approach on their best days.  The highlights for me are "Ohm," the album's loudest tune that evokes a bit of Arcade Fire, "I'll Be Around" (not the Spinners classic hit, although there is a great video on YouTube of the band covering that song), "Before We Run," the closing song, and most of all "The Point of It," which simply is a gorgeous song.

If there is a better album released this year, that would be a great thing, because the bar set by "Fade" is so high that it would need to be really good.

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