Whoever it is that gets to choose the bands and artists that get inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame seems to have missed a trick these past couple years by not nominating Hoboken, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo for a place alongside the chosen few. Eligible for nomination since 2010 (their debut single was released in 1985), they are the most prominent – and critically acclaimed – survivors of the first wave of American “indie” rockers, and for many epitomise both the sound and the spirit of one of contemporary music’s most important genres. They’re also a glowing endorsement for monogamy and its part in personal and professional contentment. Since settling on a three-piece set-up twenty years ago their line-up has remained exactly the same, with no personnel changes or branchings-out into other bands, and they have been with their label (Matador) for the same period of time; moreover, founder members Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley – together since the group formed and married since 1987 – have managed to better Fleetwood Mac, ABBA, the White Stripes and even Sonic Youth by proving that it is possible to be partners at home and at work and be happy and successful doing both. That contentment seems to be integral to Yo La Tengo’s music: they are now at the point where they are obviously so comfortable and relaxed playing within the stylistic boundaries they have carved out for themselves that it doesn’t matter that they no longer feel the need to push against them. In fact, album number 13 Fade is such a stereotypical YLT record that you have to wonder whether the “Nothing ever stays the same” hook in opener “Ohm” is meant to be ironic (the video, below, seems to suggest it might be). Not that that’s a bad thing; the YLT “sound” is one that will never grow tiresome, and all its components are present and correct here: propulsive, Krautrock-inspired grooves powered by Hubley’s motorik drumming and James McNew’s gentle bass pulse, Kaplan’s guitar buzzing like a stoned fly, sugary ’60s folk-pop melodies, hushed vocals and three-part harmonies that could soothe a crying baby to sleep. To give them their dues, the trio aren’t afraid to take risks. Fade marks the first time since 1993 that they have worked with a producer other than regular creative foil Roger Moutenot, and his replacement John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea & Cake) brings just enough to the table – strings on “Is That Enough”, brass swells on “Cornelia & Jane”, both on closer “Before We Run” – for it to feel fresh but still familiar; a spring clean, if you will, as opposed to redecoration. We might have to resign ourselves to the fact that the powers-that-be will never consider them as culturally important as the Beatles, the Who or (ahem) the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but on the strength of this latest beatific transmission, I can’t see these true alt-rock legends letting that get them down.
Fade is out January 14 via Matador Records