Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth album kicks off with an expansive meditation, both literal and figurative. “Ohm” is an ode to “nothing ever stay[ing] the same” and the beauty of change, yet over the course of nearly thirty years, the Hoboken indie vets have been remarkable in their consistency. They’ve maintained the same trio of principals since 1992, and the marriage between Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley has only solidified the band’s steady-as-she-goes demeanor. Indeed, Yo La Tengo embody a counter-narrative to the burn-out/fade-away divide in rock history. Not only is there a middle ground, but there’s supreme pleasure in this kind of workmanlike attitude.
Suffice to say, they’re an anachronistic band. Like most of Yo La Tengo’s albums, Fade unfolds very gradually, only revealing itself with repeated listens. Therein lies their genius, though: the lack of pretension and inherent warmth of their recordings makes you want to put on a Yo La Tengo record like a favorite autumn sweater. Still, there’s heaviness to their songs. “Ohm” deals with some pretty big spiritual themes, punctuated by Hubley’s driving beat and Kaplan’s characteristic guitar shredding. On “Is That Enough,” Kaplan wonders if his single-minded love fits the title phrase before resolving “it’s not enough / if it’s unclear the way I feel for you.” That complex dialogue is tough to tease out, juxtaposed as it is against the song’s baroque pop window dressing.
Yo La Tengo’s career has long been marked by an anything-goes attitude. Their yearly Hanukkah shows are legendary for the band’s encyclopedic cover song repertoire and rolodex of famous friends, and their garage-punk alter ego Condo Fucks lets them burn off some steam every now and then. They even get to indulge in a variety of sounds and styles on their albums, and Fade is no different. The ‘60s soul-pop of “Well You Better” is a nice early highlight and it’s made even better by its inclusion right next to “Paddle Forward,” wherein the band indulges the noisiness of their early ‘90s days. “I’ll Be Around” is them trying on psych-folk for a spell, marrying one of Kaplan’s dancing guitar lines to a subtle drone, and his understated solo on the motorik of “Stupid Things” is a welcome addition to the Library Of Great Ira Kaplan Guitar Solos. Perhaps it’s this sense of adventure that keeps the band grounded and rock-solid after all these years.
The pre-release buzz surrounding the album was the group’s decision to eschew longtime producer Roger Moutenot in favor of Tortoise/Sea And Cake drummer John McEntire. This could have been a juicy flashpoint in the noted button-down world of Yo La Tengo, but Kaplan shot that perception down in an interview with Pitchfork. It seems they just wanted to try something new, and McEntire’s warm production does them well. Nothing seems to rattle them, and hearing that Zen-like outlook on record is immensely refreshing and inspiring. Fade ends with Hubley’s gorgeous “Before We Run,” the stately inverse to the blissed-out “Ohm.” The former’s orchestrated momentum connects it back to the beginning of the album, linking front and back into a seemingly infinite loop. After three decades of low-key charm, one fact can sometimes get obscured: Yo La Tengo know exactly what they’re doing.