"Nothing ever stays the same. Nothing’s explained," sings Ira Kaplan on "Ohm", the first track from Yo La Tengo's 13th studio album Fade. Incredibly, 26 years have passed since Yo La Tengo released their debut album Ride The Tiger. Who would have thought that Yo La Tengo would outlive many popular artists from the 1980s. We've already looked at the opening track "Ohm" and for that matter the closing track "Before We Run", this time we have the entire album to gaze upon. It wasn't too long ago that the opening and closing track to Fade surfaced, but let me refresh your memory.
Yo La Tengo are a three piece from Hoboken, New Jersey. It's no secret that they came out of the underground scene in the 80s through the alternative rock scene in the 90s right through to today’s simplistic and melodic rock scene. They have cult status, a repertoire of singles and a strong back catalogue, so what exactly are Yo La Tengo doing releasing another album? Popular Songs came out four years ago and wasn't received as well as other albums released by Yo La Tengo. This has to be said, I was very excited about listening to Fade. I've heard many Yo La Tengo albums and the few tracks that surfaced were better than many of the singles Yo La Tengo have released over the years. So without further ado, Fade.
Right off the bat Yo La Tengo impress with album opener "Ohm". It's not their most technical or left-field of tracks, but it’s fun, catchy, loud and rare. Percussion starts it off, followed by a light synthesizer, to which a guitar enters (and never really goes away.) Ira Kaplan delivers the vocal in his usual way. It's been layered, but doesn’t sound heavily effected like some alternative rock bands. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you start an album. It really is a phenomenal track, and one of Yo La Tengo's best to date. The guitars add, the vocals pick up and the percussion stays as the faint guitar solo can be heard. At 6:49 it's the longest track on Fade, however it's the best. Much better than its follow-up, "Is That Enough". Where the title is repeated throughout the track in a repetitive manner. I've often found myself listening through "Ohm", then returning to "Ohm" because of how mediocre "Is That Enough" sounds compared to "Ohm". Kaplan delivers a well-rounded vocal, and the strings are fantastic, it's just a little basic and flat. The guitar is heavily distorted and the percussion is very lounge like.
"Well You Better" is one of the better tracks on Fade. There's a noticeable organ line in the background and a synthesizer line focussed on the right side. The bass is incredibly catchy, with reggae styled guitar chords. Of course it's not reggae, it's as much krautrock as it is jazz. Defining a Yo la Tengo track in one genre is quite pretentious, which is why the alternative label suits the New Jersey trio. The gritty garage rock sounds come through on the following track "Paddle Forward". It has a lovely guitar progression and distortion on said guitar; it's just not one of the flattering tracks on the album. Unlike previous albums, Fade doesn't have the feel of a completed album. It's hard to pin down the fault, but tracks with very little characteristics on the back half such as "I'll Be Around" and "Cornelia And Jane". Both are decent tracks in their own right, I’m just not feeling the emotion or point of them as Yo La Tengo tracks. The first half is definitely the better side, with "Stupid Things" topping off the half. This track has all the progressions and variances as the opener "Ohm". It's a long-winded guitar jam on top of a standard krautrock-esque drum rhythm.
Fade has a mediocre middle section, but thankfully the final trio of tracks salvages an album which could pretty much be summed up in two tracks, and I think you know which ones they are. Unlike its predecessors, "Two Trains" takes on that traditional slow, melodic and relaxing style we see so often on the back half of albums. It's a beautiful track with standout guitar work and percussion. "The Point of It" is the penultimate track and another relaxing track. It serves as the cool down session to an album of pretty mediocre rock music. The light acoustic guitar is welcomed, after many distorted tracks which are never loud or in your face, just present. Distortion needs to be used accordingly and I don't think Yo La Tengo have utilised it enough on Fade. When viewing the album as a unit, the few tracks that stand out are the louder, distorted tracks that are both catchy and not instantly forgettable. Because that's what we have on our hands here, a forgettable album with some outstanding tracks.
Yo La Tengo struck gold with album closer "Before We Run". It opens with what seems to be the sound of a plugged in amp with distortion added to it. Then the catchy drumming enters and a vocal by Georgia Hubley whose presence seems to be somewhat less existent compared to previous Yo La Tengo albums. The brass enters before the 90 second mark and the strings enter shortly after. Hubley's vocal picks up and the track becomes one great big alternative symphony. There's a catchy acoustic guitar which is driven on the right side and a brief section where the married couple perform a duet. The amp sound comes back as the strings and brass leave for what seems to be an intermission. Just past the half way mark comes the reformed strings, sounding like something Sigur Ros would benefit from. The additional percussion and brass add textures to a track filled with layers upon layers of instruments. There's just enough room for a reverberated guitar to enter and leave when required. The final minute includes the fading of instruments, something I’m not usually a fan of, but given the circumstances of bras and string inclusions, it works.
"Ohm" and "Before We Run" are easily the standout tracks on both initial and later listens. Unfortunately for you and I, these are the tracks that surfaced before the release. Now listening to Fade in full, it's not too surprising that these two tracks were pre-released. I wouldn't be too quick to slam the horrible and pretentious word filler over Fade, but it does have a weak and mediocre middle section. The tracks that surround both "Ohm" and "Before We Run" are decent, but they're nothing special and hardly memorable when put alongside such brilliant tracks. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing Yo La Tengo's Fade, fans would be better off buying/listening to the pre-release tracks and seeing them live if they want the full experience. Just to note, other than the two tracks I speak of so kindly, nothing on Fade would be an improvement or at least a joy to hear live, especially with a back catalogue as grand as Yo La Tengo's.