Over almost three decades, these indie rock elders have provided the soundtrack to countless awkward adolescences, first romances, college years, road trips, break ups, marriages, the birth of children. Together, both band and fans have grown. This sense of intimacy is innate to Yo La Tengo. Here is a band who uphold an annual tradition of playing the same bar & restaurant in their hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. They record albums in their rehearsal space for the simple reason that they like playing there and claim they watch too much TV to be considered bohemian. For his wife and bandmate Georgia Hubley’s birthday, Ira Kaplan once arranged to have new hardwood flooring put down in their condo while they were away on holiday, to save her the trouble. Despite the relentless critical acclaim and their reputation as iconic figures in the indie rock canon, YLT are not intangible rock superstars. They are warm and self-effacing. They’re genuine and personal. They feel like family.
Fade is yet another signpost in a reliably great road map of musical memories. The album’s thematic preoccupation with emotional bonds and the passage of time is established in opening track ‘Ohm’; “we try not to lose our hearts, not to lose our minds…. but nothing ever stays the same.” At just under seven minutes, it’s the longest song on the album, which is veritably concise by YLT standards. There’s a characteristic wailing guitar solo from Kaplan, but it’s the briefest of nods to his 17 minute distortion soaked on-stage odysseys. As an album, Fade eschews the stylistic sprawl that is now synonymous with the band and their live shows, and ‘Ohm’, with its psychedelia infused melodiousness, heralds one of their neater, poppier outings.
Gentle, country-tinged guitars evoke the soft moments of Inside-Out and the sweeping, film score strings hark back to the arrangements on Popular Songs. The melodies are of the subtly hooking kind that induces subconscious foot tapping and the simple, earnest emotion of the lyrics is complemented perfectly by Hubley and Kaplan’s ambrosial harmonies. There are up-tempo interludes with jaunty organs (‘Well You Better’), elegant acoustic guitar lines (‘I’ll Be Around’), rich brass and the sweet, soporific vocals of Georgia Hubley, an abiding album highlight.
Fade is no great departure from the band’s previous offerings, but it is in no way to their detriment; they are considered the quintessential critics’ band with good reason. They are consistent in their delivery of great albums and never stagnate. There is playfulness and experimentation, from the freeform feedbacking guitar riffs to the Condo Fucks covers album, but at the heart of it all is a loyalty to beloved signature styles and sounds. That’s the beauty of loving Yo La Tengo – it never goes unrewarded.