Yo La Tengo are back. Their 17th studio album ‘This Stupid World’ is a self produced, mostly recorded live, raw yet tender record that furthers their reputation as one of the most consistently fruitful bands around.
Formed by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Huble in the mid 80s, Yo La Tengo took off with 93’s album ‘Painful’, their first made with bassist James McNew, who with Kaplan and Huble have formed the trio ever since. 97’s breakthrough ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’ set the blueprint for future output mixing fierce swirling guitars with gentle folk ballads and experimental jams. They’ve a way with covers too – check out (a few) versions of Sun Ra’s ‘Nuclear War’, James & Bobby Purify ‘I’m Your Puppet’ and a definitive recording of George McCrae’s ‘You Can Have It All’. It’s a winning recipe that, with tweaks, has been replicated with success on most subsequent albums, focusing more on gentler sounds on ‘Summer Sun’ to adding strings and horns to ‘I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass’.
In that way, ‘This Stupid World’ is very much in the mould of a classic Yo La Tengo album. Sprawlingly hypnotic guitar led opener? Jazz inflected indie folk? Experimental feedback? Snappy fuzz banger? All correct and checked. They do it so, so well though, in the same way that say Spiritualized have nailed perfecting the same three songs for years, and bring more than enough energy, variety and tallent to create wonderful new songs that all sit comfortably inside this little world whilst still sounding as vibrant and into it as they did 30 years ago.
That opener then, the seven minute plus ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’, is built around the steady pulse of Hubley’s delicately played drums and McNew’s throbbing bass while Kaplan jettisons any sheet music in favour of exploring almost every sound a fuzzy guitar can make. There’s a song in there too, of course; sung in beautiful harmony, albeit in that attractively lazy way they do. ‘Fallout’ is all fuzzy, unpretentious and catchy – a glorious classic single. The bluesy ‘Tonight’s Episode’ crosses discordant feedback with acoustic picking and a persistent bass riff, while ‘Aselestine’ is classic Huble, melancholic, hard to interpret yet universal in supplying comfort. ‘Apology Letter’ utilises softly played, minimal instrumentation that combine to great effect. Closing the album, the onomatopoeic ‘Miles Away’ is a shoegazing hymn set to a mechanical chug, stretching further out into the distance the more it progresses.
If this is all starting to sound like a love letter to Yo La Tengo, that’s because it is. There aren’t many bands that produce such genuine, creative, consistent music over this length of time, ‘This Stupid World’ is another wonderful instalment in their extensive catalogue.
Words: Benjamin Graye