Yo La Tengo has a talent for balancing strange and pretty, on a small scale and in the grand scheme. Over 25-plus years, the indie rockers have been a little of both from album to album, song to song, and moment to moment.
Fade shows the gentler side of Yo La Tengo, with plenty of quiet boy/girl harmonies, carefully plucked-out guitar melodies and occasional major-key strings. But the dissonant and harsh sounds find space in the thick layers to cut through. A fuzzy, agitated guitar is ever-present in the background of “Is That Enough,” which otherwise leans on all the aforementioned prettiness. Feedback screeches at the start of “Paddle Forward.” “Well You Better” sounds the most traditionally indie rock, with the telephone vocal distortion, sharp, high guitar hits and charming electronic whistles and hums.
Maybe the most charged song is the opener, “Ohm.” It has momentum without feeling like it ever goes anywhere, with a steadily chugging beat from drums backing increasingly thick layers of psych-rock guitars and dreamy vocal. Things get steadily softer, and Yo La Tengo does it best on “Stupid Things” -- the kind of song you sink into, all of the individual parts floating around you.
After that, the dreamy quality starts to feel a little sleepy. The songs work best when there's that tension between ugly and pretty. The purely lovely songs, like “The Point Of It,” are still good, but the others are more interesting.
Really, it's just impressive and reassuring to hear that Yo La Tengo hasn't run out of creative steam. This kind of longevity in indie rock doesn't require radically different-sounding records, just ideas fresh enough to prove they still got it. Yo La Tengo's still got it.