Yo La Tengo – Fade

I was not initially jazzed about the notion of John McEntire in the producer’s chair for Yo La Tengo’s thirteenth “proper” album. The storied post-rock engineer has some impressive credits but his greatest successes (Stereolab, Tortoise, the Sea and Cake) share a clinical aura; McEntire’s also managed to suck the life out of bands as varied as Antibalas and Broken Social Scene. In my book, it was even money that this new pairing would not end well.

I needn’t have worried – my prediction failed to account for Yo La Tengo’s status as one of the most human bands of our generation. And that warmth (and occasional smirk) easily overpowers any of McEntire’s eggheaded tendencies. Fade showcases some subtle evolutions in texture, most prominently on opener “Ohm,” which weaves a spell reminiscent of “Autumn Sweater” while embedding a guitar buzz deeper in its foundation. Next come a pair of beguiling genre workouts – one a whispered countrypolitan throwback with swelling strings that would do Lambchop proud, the other a light soul vamp – that sound like Ira, Georgia and James have been raiding the Numero Group archives, and it’s game on.

Fade carries the scent of a grander statement, a welcome uptick from 2009’s pleasant placeholder Popular Songs. Its stylings slide comfortably between I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One (my pick for the high water mark of YLT’s 27-year catalog) and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (which others rank more highly than I do). But Fade imbues the at times uncomfortable intimacy of that latter title with greater melodic verve. Check “I’ll Be Around,” on which McEntire captures the saliva between Ira Kaplan’s lips as he delivers a hushed vocal set to an elegant Bert Jansch-style acoustic guitar reverie. Fade is also more concise, relatively speaking – although several tracks straddle the five minute mark, absent are the extended jams/drones that pad many of the trio’s albums.

Fade cannot be mistaken for anyone other than Yo La Tengo, yet it rides enough inspiration to magically manage to sidestep rehash. That creative spark is more readily apparent on Fade’s front half, but it’s nonetheless a worthy addition to Yo La Tengo’s long, impressive resume.

Yo La Tengo