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Haunting, Melodic And (Rather) Mellow
on 21 January 2013
Yo La Tengo's latest, much anticipated by us aficionados, and thereby facing a sterling challenge to 'come up to scratch' (particularly, a 'YLT scratch'), 2013's Fade, with its set of haunting melodies and lyrics, for me, pretty much hits the mark - on an album that (like many of YLT's) is a relatively slow burner. Eschewing the lush and more extravagant production values of YLT-regular Roger Moutenot for John McEntire's sparser, rawer sound, Fade finds the band at their most studied and reflective (a feature which may well have been influenced by Ira's recently mooted 'serious health scare'), thereby providing a textbook example of the maxim 'less is more'.
Indeed, although most of the songs here are mid-tempo, restrained affairs, the band make excellent use of strings (in particular on Is That Enough and Before We Run) and brass (Cornelia And Jane and Before We Run) and they have lost none of their (near unique) ability to hook the listener with an affecting, and moody, melody. The nearest Fade comes to anything like the pyrotechnic grandeur of the band's 'massive sounding' classics, such as Blue Line Swinger, The Story of Yo La Tango and Deeper Into Movies, is in the album's two bookending songs - opener Ohm, with its group harmony vocals, reflective lyrics ('Lose no more time, cause it's been fun, but nothing ever stays the same') and trademark (though slightly toned down) Ira solo, and the closer Before You Run, on which Georgia and Ira take part in a touchingly romantic 'call and response' vocal, behind which the extended band (including brass and strings) provide a haunting and intoxicating melody.
Otherwise, Fade provides us with a nicely judged set of poignant (and often romantic) little gems. Each of Is That Enough, Well You Better, I'll Be Around (with its beautiful acoustic guitar) and Cornelia and Jane (featuring Georgia's dulcet and tender vocal) are perfectly formed and affecting. Paddle Forward, on the other hand inhabits rockier territory, and with that magnificent Nothing To Hide-like guitar sound and hook is a personal favourite, whilst Stupid Things is simply mesmerising, and features one of James' most heavenly vocal turns (and a nicely restrained guitar solo).
On first listening, Fade's quality does not smack you in the face, but on repeated playing the subtle beauty of these songs eventually blossoms (at least in my ears), and whilst I would still declare a preference for their masterpiece I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and (for me their best record since Heart) I Am Not Afraid Of You, Fade is another worthy addition to the band's body of work (I'm already looking forward to their Barbican gig in March).