January 22, 2013

Growing old with Yo La Tengo

26 years and 13 albums in, and Yo La Tengo are still making some of their best music. I've been alive for just as long, and I've been aware of this revered indie band for about half of my young adult life. I'm also still discovering parts of their back catalogue for the first time, realizing as I go that I'm clearly on the outer ring of Yo La Tengo's broad but dedicated following.

No matter how you look at it, we're all aging. Some of us take it with grace; others, like me, take it with sense of melodrama and dread. When I listen Yo La Tengo, a band that really hit its stride in the late 90s (ten years into their career), I'm reminded that I still have some things to look forward to, that it's the small comforts that get us out of bed, day after day. Yo La Tengo have also come to define a certain ideal of love that I'm sure I'm not alone in admiring: the husband and wife duo, working out the nuances of their relationship through the medium of delicate guitar-pop. Romantic relationships, if we're lucky enough to have them, are full of negotiations and risks; our quirks don't necessarily change, but at times it seems like we're in a process of refinement and there's no easy way out.

But enough bourgeois sentiment. The thing I love about Yo La Tengo, besides their knack for clever hooks and their clear obsession with feedback, is that they sweat the small stuff. At first, they appear to be playing it safe--the word "domestic" often comes to mind. But for Yo La Tengo, the threats of boredom, oblivion, and insignificance are ever present. Perhaps that's what makes the small victories of their songs matter so much.

All of which is to say that, over the last 26 years, Yo La Tengo have more or less perfected what a lot of indie artists often miss: a delicate touch, a willingness to say too little when it seems like everyone wants you to say too much. Yo La Tengo are often referred to as a band for record collectors, not simply because of their ability to jump back and forth between styles and influences, but because they show an appreciation for restraint: they're wise enough to know that they stand, though a little off-balance, on the broad shoulders of giants. At least this is what their new record, Fade, suggests. More comfortable in tone and sequence than 2009's messy Popular Songs and less self-consciously hip than 2006's I'm Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, Fade would be a remarkably solid effort for any other band. For Yo La Tengo it just makes sense. It's not an event; it's an affirming boost, a much-needed pat on the shoulder. The album kicks off with the jubilant jangle-pop of "Ohm" and keeps the tempo pretty high until midway through. But, unsurprisingly, it's the latter, more sombre part of the album that finds Yo La Tengo doing what they've done best throughout the last decade. Songs like "The Point of It" and the gorgeous "Cornelia and Jane" are impossibly charming, and flirt with the same understated longing that defined And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000). I'm tempted to say something about this being the best Yo La Tengo album in a decade, but I'm not at all sure that it's true. What I can say, without hesitating, is that some of us needed this album to get through another long winter and only Yo La Tengo could have made it.


  1. I am glad to know that I am not alone in my melodrama and dread of growing old. Thanks for this post, and for the new YLT tune.

  2. Thank you, Ms Divit, for taking the time to read and listen.