Today’s Sounds: Yo La Tengo

The new record by New Jersey indie rock veterans Yo La Tengo, plus a track by possibly the only cool band in Tampa — Merchandise — and a video by Santigold, affiliated with a certain award-winning HBO series.


Yo La Tengo, Fade (Matador)

The first time I ever saw or heard Yo La Tengo, they were playing the Velvet Underground in I Shot Andy Warhol (a great movie, by the way). That impression of them as a shadow of a greater band, or bit players in a movement that eclipses them, has always coloured my feelings about their music. The eclecticism of their discography — from pop to noise, at brief to epic running times, exemplified most starkly by their last record, the totally two-toned Popular Songs — arguably reinforces the notion that they lack identity. But time has eroded that feeling, as Yo La Tengo have continued to release impressive records, leaving many of their former peers from the ’90s indie rock world behind. And a sense of cohesion emerges when you listen to this new record (produced by Tortoise’s John McEntire), where a throughline is audible even as arrangements and sonic weight fluctuate.

The first thing you’ll notice about Fade is how subdued and evenly paced it is. “Ohm” sets the scene appropriately, its circular riff, repetitive melody and instrumentation evoking the expected Eastern tropes, in a way that’s vivid and not overly vomit-inducing. Songs like “Well You Better” and “Stupid Things” roll out with hushed vocals, drums and a slender guitar or organ riff, overlaid with a light shimmer that drapes much of the record. “Is That Enough” is surprisingly Belle & Sebastian, with string swells, boyish vocals and a chorus you can bob to.

It’s not all candy and puppies, however. With its morose picked intro, “I’ll Be Around” is nearly the new Nick Drake track you’ll never hear. “Two Trains” is darker, so deep down it sounds as if it’s being played underwater — it’s the only song here that gets truly sonically sad.

As it finally did here in Montreal this afternoon, the sun reemerges in the end, with the cool pop closer “Before We Run.” Coupled with the album title, the song’s shiny orchestral outro makes me wonder whether this is it for Yo La Tengo — fanfare is as fitting for an exit as it is an entrance.

Despite “Paddle Forward” and its scraps of indie rock meat, Fade is a light record: no heavy guitars, no dissonance, no songs over 10 minutes, no hilariously badass titles (have a look at their discography for a few solid laughs). That might seem like a cop-out to those who gravitated to Yo La Tengo for their more pointed punk rock tendencies, but what the record does have to offer is subtly beautiful songcraft by a band confident in its skills and its sonic footprint.


Merchandise, “Anxiety’s Door”

Are Tampa’s Merchandise the coolest band in Florida? Sample this track from their upcoming Total Nite EP, and see.



Santigold, “Girls”

In the wake of some Golden Globe love for Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls, it’s a video for a tune from the show’s soundtrack, by Santigold.

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