When it comes to albums, critics like to fall back on phrases like ‘difficult sophomore effort’ or ‘tricky third release’, or even ‘challenging fourth album.’ Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth release should, if nothing else, be a bit of a handful. Which it is, in that there’s a lot to take on, but none of it can be said to be challenging, tricky, or even especially handsy. Fade does not represent much of a departure from previous incarnations of Yo La Tengo. For the uninitiated, this is a play on shoegaze-meets-dream-pop, done by a couple who have been married for longer than even seems possible. It sounds, as it should, like music made by people who know one another inside and out, and to be let in, even for only eleven tracks, is a particularly special treat. In the tenth track, they phrase it best: ‘it’s only us.’ It doesn’t sound as though it could be anyone else.
The album glides through genres – starting loud, becoming melodic, introspective, and a bit jazzy by turns – and careers through all sorts of different instrumentals. Strings, saxophone, the odd snare, deep tingling bass notes. It starts strong, and gets better, reaching a quiet but powerful climax that lingers through the final six tracks. At gentler turns, it sounds like the most extraordinary secret. Yo La Tengo strike the comfortable balance of being dreamy without allowing themselves to be unfocussed. It makes for a pleasing wooziness that thrums through the middle tracks. It’s delightful. The whole album is delightful. Since 1984, Yo La Tengo’s track record has consisted of fervid reviews that fail to translate into mass success or sales. If there is to be a game-changer, Fade might just be it. This is because it is exceptional.
It’s probably too early in 2013 to start making these sorts of claims but, damn it, I’m going to throw caution to the wind and do just that: this could be the best thing you hear all year. More than ever, Yo La Tengo probably do. Have it, that is.