As the indie rock trio from Hoboken, New Jersey approaches their third decade of relevance, there is barely a genre that Yo La Tengo has yet to touch. Their thirteenth record, Fade, shifts away from the legendary mix of styles—folk, noise, bossa nova, rock, funk and jazz—that has become the group’s brand. Rather, the husband, wife and plus-one have written songs that vary only slightly away from the quiet folk-rock that dominates the album. As a result, the album examines steady themes, each song is both less differentiated and less surprising than on previous releases.
Fade is also much shorter than their previous records. Clocking in well under the 60-plus-minute records they usually produce, this one relaxes through the fuzzy rock and lo-fi crooning of the record’s ten tracks. As a result, Fade lives up to its title. Even the sharpest elements of the record—e.g. the guitar wa-was and organ pipes of “Well You Better”—are hardly heard as they begin to dissolve away.
Otherwise, the album sounds like a standard Yo La Tengo record, though they seem slightly less inspired. The seven-minute feedback-fuelled opener “Ohm” promises everything we’ve come to expect from the band’s more successful LPs. With its harmony-laced vocals and anthemic lyrics, “Ohm” is irresistible. Fade’s closer and first released single, “Before We Run” is equally memorable. Easily the most daring addition to the album, the track awakens the listener from quiet folk of the album’s second half, which, with the exception of noteworthy tunes “Stupid Things” and “Cornelia and Jane,” becomes an indistinguishable blend of acoustic hum.
Despite the album title, Yo La Tengo isn’t yet fading away. With twenty-five years of underground success, the trio’s name (Spanish for the outfielder’s cry of “I’ve got it!”), has proven both prophetic and still true. While they’ve still ‘got it,’ they commit more errors. It’s a problem that a lot of aging, near-canonical groups run into after many years. Before this album, Yo La Tengo had remained fresh by continually reinventing their sound. (Many critics even compare their always-changing aesthetic to similar urges in the Velvet Underground, and Yo La Tengo even portrayed the group in the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol.)
This time the group feels less creative. It is possible that Fade is properly interpreted as an homage to the group’s influence on the musical underground. For a band that’s been noticed but never become all that popular beyond music critics, Fade serves as a sort of overview or swan song to a long career, rather than an attempt to experiment anew. But its sounds, though reprised, never carry the oomph of past records.