Yo La Tengo does indeed still have it

by Andrea Larez

Yo La Tengo does indeed still have it

In their 17th studio album, Yo La Tengo comes back tearing through the noise with songs guaranteed to leave you in a trance. From top to bottom, the New Jersey indie rock band manages to create an atmosphere for the listener to disappear in. It’s shoegaze-y, feedback-driven noise rock, almost psychedelic. Recorded between the summers of 2020 and 2022, prime pandemic years, This Stupid World digs into the sound of the modern human condition.

When listening to this record, you can tell that this band has a special connection. Forty-plus years in the making, Yo La Tengo has crafted a unique and diverse sound since couple Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley formed the band in 1984. From their diverse collection of long-play records to their film instrumental scores, the group has shown their longevity in an ever-changing industry.

Starting with the ambitious seven-minute intro “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” an addictive, defying bass line and eclectic guitar set the listener in an immediate state of entropy. Kaplan and Hubley harmonize over a haunting melody, “Until we all break / Until we all break / Until we all break down.” In “Fallout,” magnetic melodies and driving electric guitars express the darkness the world holds: “Every day it hurts to look / I’d turn away if only I could,” The record continues to surprise throughout, following with its off putting distortion, dark bass, and intimate vocals in “Tonight’s Episode.” We know they can do noise-rock at this point, but in “Aselestine,” Hubley’s angelic vocals come through along with acoustic guitars yearning for connection.

The album seems to be edging towards a finite end, not of the work itself, but of the world as a whole: “Prepare to die / Prepare yourself while there’s still time.” However, its dire lyrics throughout are consoled by the reassurance of the human impulse to keep on going. The title track presents this best: “This stupid world / it’s killing me / this stupid world / it’s all we have.” We are all doomed, but we’re all in it together; a sentiment known too well by all those who endured the recent pandemic. The final track is similar to the first due in its length and large instrumental section, but instead of being this in-your-face piece, it builds on an ethereal synth with Hubley’s vocals, almost siren-like, soothing the listener into a conclusion. It feels like one of those songs you could listen to forever — it calms both the mind and the soul. After 41 minutes of unpredictable chaos and juxtaposed feelings, this track reflects and invites the listener to start from the beginning.

One might expect a band from the 80s to be irrelevant by 2023, or even the 21st century, but Yo La Tengo shows us with This Stupid World that they’re still ones to watch. Yo La Tengo (Spanish for “I have it,” a name which came from a baseball anecdote from the 1962 season) does indeed still have it.

This Stupid World

Matador · February 10th, 2023