Many people have the opinion that standing still is like going backwards. Maybe they are right but if it’s up to Hoboken finest standing still doesn’t necessarily lead to something negative.
What’s left to say about Yo La Tengo? After almost four decades of existence we have run out of superlatives to describe this trio. So for introductions let’s keep it simple: This Stupid World is the seventeenth full instalment to their catalogue and unlike all previous albums wasn’t produced with help from the outside. For the first time everything you hear on This Stupid World comes from Yo La Tengo on its own. Seems exciting right? Could there be a radical change of sound? Well, let’s find out. Or on second thought, let’s not find out because to be honest you won’t hear anything that you haven’t heard before from the Kaplan-Hubley couple and friends. Normally this would be met by a lot of criticism but in this case it surprisingly works in the opposite direction. This Stupid World could very well be one of the band’s strongest releases in the past few years. If you take it mind that Fade (2013) and There’s a Riot Going On (2018) already were of top-notch quality: well then you’re in for a real treat now.
Yo La Tengo opens their latest album with a seven minute ode to New Jersey. Sinatra Drive Breakdown, partly named after a popular waterfront boulevard in Hoboken, is driven by warped guitars and could well go down in the books as one of those signature YLT songs. Kaplan’s quiet singing and the spontaneous bursts of distorted riffs give this opener an timeless feel but also keeps you on your toes. The band continues the atmospheric melt with the droning fuzz-pop song Fallout. While Fallout is a solid song on its own it also is a direct tap into their monumental works from the 90s, therefore it seems logical it was selected as the lead single. Fallout isn’t a song that keeps sticking in your head. Instead, Aselestine does a better job. The song is essentially the b-side of Fallout and also served as a teaser in the lead up to the full release of This Stupid World. This ‘b-side’ is centred around Georgia Hubley’s calm voice and is of subtle purenes which reminds of the comfort of Stuff Like That (2015) album.
After Apology Letter, another spot-on feast of indie-minimalism, the trio sweeps up the noise. On Brain Capers a roaring guitar wall covers up Kaplan’s voice. From here strong hints of shoegaze take over the album. Heavy drones, pounding drums and mesmeric vocals rise high during the album’s seven minute title track. It’s hard not to think about the Velvet Underground experimentalism here as the monochrome feedback bluntly cuts through the drones while the trio sings: “This stupid world is killing me, this stupid world is all we have”. The lengthy closer Miles Away serves as the album’s counterpoint. Again Hubley takes the microphone but now is accompanied by a simple drum machine beat and fuzzy but light synths. Now the dense moments of This Stupid World are left behind for what you can call an unfolding open space. It’s a sense of levitating freedom that differs from the rest of the album. Hubley’s soothing voice serves as a perfect lead out to the album and more importantly towards a hopeful outlook.
On their seventeenth album Yo La Tengo once again show off their versatility. Among the few certainties we have in life like death and taxes we can now also add the high quality of the band’s work. This of course shouldn’t be a surprise anymore so why make the effort to give this one a spin? Well, This Stupid World is probably the best overview of the musical progression of the band since the turn of the millennium and also pays tribute to the preceding breakthrough years. Between and in songs we hear a blend of punchness and introvertness which is framed in classic indie pop structures or open ended gritty indie rock. Yet in the end This Stupid World however is best understood as a synonym for the struggling humanity which is re-translated by Yo La Tengo as the coexistence of the sombre and beautiful. A work that thus ultimately begs for repeat listens.
Label: Matador, 2023
Buy it here: https://store.matadorrecords.com/this-stupid-world
- Sinatra Drive Breakdown (7:24)
- Fallout (4:36)
- Tonight’s Episode (4:50)
- Aselestine (3:50)
- Until It Happens (3:15)
- Apology Letter (4:16)
- Brain Capers (5:35)
- This Stupid World (7:27)
- Miles Away (7:30)
- Georgia Hubley – drums/vocals
- Ira Kaplan – guitar/vocals
- James McNew – bass
Review by Wander Meulemans // 020323