Yo La Tengo Reviewed!

Yo La Tengo

by mojo |
Published on

Yo La Tengo


This Stupid World


“This stupid world/It’s killing me,” murmurs Ira Kaplan on the title track to Yo La Tengo’s seventeenth album. It’s a bleak message, but in tune with an album dealing with those realities that ultimately cannot be negotiated away.

It marks a gear change from Yo La Tengo’s recent records. As the world became a darker, more conflicted place, the trio responded with music to cushion its blows. 2018’s There’s A Riot Going On might have titularly referenced the unrest then roiling Trump’s America, but its bruised lullabies and soft-focus feedback symphonies harboured few lyrical references beyond Here You Are’s message of retreat (“Tune out the world/Except our friends”). 2020’s We Have Amnesia Sometimes, meanwhile, was entirely wordless, its ambient drones an aural comfort blanket to blot out the anxieties of the Covid era.

“It’s the group’s most exciting, most engaged, most breath-taking album this century.”

Those records offered escapism, but not This Stupid World. The strain of the preceding years, of the passage of time, can be felt throughout. You can hear it in the “Until we all break” refrain repeating through opening track Sinatra Drive Breakdown, registering the toll that sustained endurance takes on a soul. You can hear it in Fallout, a late-middle-age rewrite of Sugarcube invested with regret, yearning and unease (“It makes me sick/What’s in my mind”). You can hear it in Until It Happens, a meditation on mortality that finds Kaplan cycling between denial (“Look away from the hands of time”) and resigned acceptance (“Prepare to die/While there’s still time”). Even Georgia Hubley’s smudgy, Julee Cruise-ish closer Miles Away finds her admitting that, for all her efforts, “The pain creeps in anyhow”.

This weighty text is leavened by the music of This Stupid World. The gauzy narcotic fog of the last few releases clears, replaced by the experimental charge that underscored their earlier work. Self-produced and recorded mostly live, the album often foregrounds Kaplan’s electrifying blend of conventional and avant technique. These flourishes aren’t showboating but set the mood of the songs: his crackling, maverick improvisations through Sinatra Drive Breakdown establish a chaotic tension, while the smothering waves of Sister Ray-esque feedback that envelop the title track make visceral the song’s overwhelming sense 
of dread.

As ever with YLT, there’s craft to marvel at: Georgia Hubley’s summer-soft lament Aselestine would have fit on Fakebook, James McNew’s Tonight’s Episode is a droll, left-field treat. But ultimately, This Stupid World is an act of catharsis, a moment of clarity. It’s also the group’s most exciting, most engaged, most breath-taking album this century.

This Stupid World is out 10 February via Matador

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