Long time fans won’t necessarily hear new things from Yo La Tengo on Fade, and yet it feels like a huge leap forward for these ageless indie-rock favorites.
The album, at times, bears more than a passing resemblance with 2000′s lullaby-laden And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out — in particular late in the proceedings. At other times, Fade (due January 15, 2013 via Matador Records) boasts the outsized sense of adventure that made albums like 2006′s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass such a weirdly kinetic listening experience. Of course, that reflects the tension found in everyone’s life; it’s the grist that keeps us going. Yo La Tengo, too. Still, over a career that started in 1984, and then really found its footing in the 1990s, Kaplan and Co. have rarely struck a more perfect balance between the two impulses.
Credit a new-found polish in melding sounds onto Fade, its continued exploration of mature subject matter focused on the act of growing up — and growing old — and, importantly, its smart brevity. The first and the last things are likely due to the presence of John McEntire, the former Tortoise member who takes over for the band’s longtime producer Roger Moutenot. After all, Yo La Tengo’s roving creativity has occasionally led to some incoherent and over long — though awkwardly appealing — projects. (Inside-Out, at 77:15, could certainly be accused of wearing out its welcome.) Instead, everything here is fine tuned and tightly edited.
There’s still plenty of time, however, to get lost in the narrative intricacies of Fade, which reads like a conversation among two long-married lovers — if they were talking among a din of droning jangle-pop or swirling strings so enveloping that it mimicked the weight bearing down on anyone late in their life, or late in a relationship. On the cacophonously delightful opener “Ohm,” for instance, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are eventually subsumed in a torrent of noise. Elsewhere, their characters are buffeted by the heart-filling swoon of “Is That Enough” and urged on by the skipping new-wave cadence of “Well You Better,” galvanized by the dystopic echo of “Stupid Things” and baffled by the watery intrigue of “Two Trains.”
Seamlessly organic and deeply resonant, Fade moves with a remarkable grace throughout — delving ever deeper into themes of longevity, and the fear of what the end might bring. The project seems to grow inexorably quieter over its second half, though it all leads to “Before We Run,” a monument to hushed, polyrhythmic portent.
Somehow, just 45 minutes or so had passed as that song ended. It was like coming awake from a short, but very revealing dream. I realized, all at once, that Yo La Tengo has never been more cogent, coiled or — not coincidentally — compelling.