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Album Review

by Yo La Tengo


Review Date
5th March 2013
Reviewed by
Louisa Kasza

Fade, Yo La Tengo’s first studio album since 2009's Popular Songs, arrives none too soon and is aptly titled, dealing as it does with themes of endings, ageing and dissolution. The impression of YLT that one comes away with is of, finally, an indie-rock giant capable of ageing gracefully (the converse effect can be achieved by listening to the Strokes’ new travesty of a track, One Way Trigger).

With opening track 'Ohm', a rollicking ode to letting go, YLT begin establishing a strongly themed album. It's a wonderful mixture of bitter and sweet, apparent from the opening lines "Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose". Along with 'Paddle Forward', this track is one of the most obvious nods to the band's shoegaze and psychedelia habit. There's an element of despair in 'Paddle Forward' apparent in such lyrics as "Ship of fools! / We've come unmoored”, and it is also arguably the track that comes the closest to YLT’s usual forays into experimental rock. Its washed out quality is carried on in 'Stupid Things', a deceptively quiet track which is in fact the most lyrically complex, even opaque, on the whole album. 'Two Trains', although with more of an electronic feel a la 'Autumn Sweater', is also thematically in the same camp, as these tracks all fall under the sub-theme of futility, disappointment and frustration, voiced in 'Two Trains' refrain "What are you going to do? / We’re all waiting for you".

Representing a very different take on endings is 'Is That Enough', a gently resigned song of love at the end of the road. Here, Ira Kaplan's voice feels as smooth as warm peanut butter poured into one's ear. On this track and others such as 'Cornelia and Jane', a sweetly melancholic ode to mental illness sung by Georgia Hubley, the band has ventured into a complex, symphonic arrangement. 'Cornelia and Jane' has a lovely Broken Social Scene-esque feeling, as horns blow mournfully while lyrics "Slipping away / Fade deep inside of you / But how can we hold on to you?" reference (not for the first time) the album's title. 

More cheerful yet ambiguous finality can be found in 'Well You Better', a gentle little ditty which has Kaplan coming across as every Manic Pixie Dream Girl's ideal romantic counterpart; " Oh, baby make up your mind 'fore it's too late" is married with vintage-sounding keyboard work to an unnervingly twee effect, and the persona of the sappy would-be boyfriend is picked up again in guitar-plucking farewell ballad 'I'll Be Around'.

Resolution between the two sub-themes of mature resignation and bitter endings is achieved in the final tracks on the album, 'The Point of It' and 'Before We Run'. 'The Point of It's'lyrics run the gamut from “When you’re screaming in my ear /What’s the point of it?” to “Honey, that’s okay... / That’s the point of being loved”, and this is also the only track that really takes on the theme of ageing as heard in "maybe that's okay / if we're not so young".

Fade is a ghost-ridden album, carrying the flavour of such indie-rock greats as Wilco, Broken Social Scene, Mark Oliver Everett and, of course, Yo La Tengo's own impressive resume. This, along with its theme of endings and goodbyes, makes the album feel almost like a swan song for the guitar-heavy alt-rock genre's time in the sun. We can only hope that YLT is not signaling their own goodbye.


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