With Yo La Tengo having now rounded the quarter-century mark (including more than two decades in its current lineup), it would be reasonable to expect the band to start slowing down a bit. Fade suggests the trio wouldn’t disagree: Defined by its dreamy ruminations on aging, the record is both a clear-eyed assessment of how far the band has come and a perspective on what’s ahead. In taking stock of the past, the album seamlessly blends relaxed orchestration and spirited noisemaking within digestible pop structures, resulting in the group’s best collection since 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
Yo La Tengo’s last go-around, 2009’s Popular Songs, was split into two parts, one of catchy, concise melodies, the other of sprawling, meandering clamor. Fade expands upon the more memorable first half of that record, while giving the group a little more room to play—though not as punchy as the band’s most accessible work, Fade is a disciplined album, oriented toward songs rather than free-form musicianship. While there are bouts of controlled commotion here and there, it’s the sublime, softly alluring cuts where the record makes its strongest emotional connections.
The fragile, organic “I’ll Be Around,” for example, quietly explores love and longing atop ambling, windswept acoustic finger-picking, anchored by a rolling, metronomic bass pulse; with frontman Ira Kaplan’s hushed vocals, it’s one of the more uncomplicated, intimate songs the group has done in years. Similarly, with a breathy whisper on “The Point Of It,” Kaplan contemplates life’s lessons across an atmospheric lull of subdued guitars. Paired with closer “Before We Run,” the song epitomizes the album’s delicate treatment of broad, universal themes, given a growing sense of drama through the measured addition of strings and horns. Yo La Tengo may not be as daringly innovative as it once was, but, in targeting its experiments to a cohesive purpose, the band successfully fulfills Fade’s grandiose scope.