Fade – Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo
And so, New Jersey natives Yo La Tengo welcome us in to the new year with their thirteenth studio album, Fade. Earnest and inviting, the album also has an air of mystery about it; even only a few weeks into 2013, I can tell this will certainly be one of my favorites of the year. With a running time of only forty-five minutes, the album is short and to the point, but Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have stuffed Fade full of great music.
While in the past, Yo La Tengo albums have had an eclectic mix of genre-hopping songs on the, Fade doesn’t skip around as much. Instead, it focuses more on an almost shoegaze quality — fuzzy distortion, droning soundscapes, and hushed mumblings all envelop the record in a cloudy feeling. Album opener “Ohm” is a perfect example with the constant over-driven layers forming on top of each other, until the song has a paradoxical ordered chaos to it. Other songs, such as “Little Things,” have a cleaner sound, yet still sound out-of-focus. The acoustic dronings combined with soft string sections definitely convey a hushed variation on the first track’s thesis. The softer tracks (“Well You Better,” “I’ll Be Around,” “Two Trains,” etc) — as well as some of the heavier, gain-soaked tunes — also feature almost-mumbled vocals by Ira and/or Georgia, as if the two were sharing an intimate secret with us.
Of course, the lyrics are united with the shoegaziness of Fade. “I hear them whispering / They analyze / But no one knows / What’s lost in your eyes,” Hubley intones over minimal guitar sounds (where you can hear Kaplan’s fingers brush against the strings) on “Cornelia and Jane.” Again, the first track hints at the themes of feeling lost, “aging, tragedy and emotional bonds” that appear on the rest of the album, and then uses the phrase “‘Cause it’s been fun” as a mantra near the end.
If there is one problem with Fade, it could be a slight fault in the production value. I may love the hazy, obscure feeling of the record, but sometimes instruments and vocals can get a little too lost in the mix. “Paddle Forward” could be the worst offender — it’s a great song, honestly, but with the distortion, pounding bass, locomotion-like drums, and the addition of Ira’s and Georgia’s voices, things start to get washed out. It could just come with the territory of the album, and it’s a small flaw in the schema of it, but it can get a bit distracting trying to extract every sound.
However, even with all of the fuzziness of tone and lyrics on Fade, the listener still leaves with an uplifting perception. For every drifting sensation that the record generates, there’s always an illuminating “We always wake before we fall / I always know that when we wake up, you’re mine / wake up… you’re mine.” And, it’s not until the tantalizing last track, “Before We Run,” that we get the full extent of this hope. This is the best track, with every instrument fitting in like a puzzle — the ending features a dropping out of each melody slowly, until it simply stops existing. Hubley peacefully sings “Hold me in your arms / be still, be there / I’ll hold you in mine,” and even if it sounds facetious, the warmth of the track is that embracing. Yo La Tengo leaves us with the simple uttering of “Take me where there’s only us,” and then lets the vibrant string section, rhythmic bass, and droning arpeggios drift off.
There are very few records whose titles I think perfectly encapsulate the ideas in its songs. Fade is one of these rarities, and the eponym does reflect indefiniteness of the tracks.