Yo La Tengo: This Stupid World (2023)
This Stupid World feels like the return of an old friend. It's arguably the first classically-structured Yo La Tengo album in 10 years, dating back to 2013's excellent Fade. 2018's deceptively-titled There's A Riot Going On was lovely, and has grown on me over time, but was more focused on quiet atmospherics and gentle balladry than exploring the varied rock-centric sounds of the band's more typical long-players; while 2015's unplugged Stuff Like That There and 2020's Sleepless Night EP were largely covers collections, and 2018's We Have Amnesia Sometimes offered up some instrumental jams.
So it's nice to see Stupid World reviving the eclectic blend of fizzy noise-pop rockers, gorgeous ballads, and droning epic guitar workouts that have characterized most of their records ever since 1992's May I Sing With Me laid down the basic blueprint. It feels at times like the band deliberately revisiting their past, many of the songs recalling familiar riffs or sounds from earlier records; but rather than feeling rehashed, there's a comfortable familiarity to the grooves, a reminder that the band can still be the same Yo La Tengo we've loved for decades while adding enough new twists to keep things fresh.
Opener "Sinatra Drive Breakdown" kicks things off with a jolt of electricity, a boisterous, noisy melange that sounds like they've taken stray licks from past glories--a little "Cherry Chapstick" here, some "I Heard You Looking" there, maybe a healthy dose of "Flying Lesson (Hot Chicken #1)"--and thrown them into the blender, offering us old-timers some spot-the-references fan service while slathering on that comforting Ira Kaplan/Georgia Hubley vocal pairing we love so much.
It's followed by "Fallout," the sort of instantly winning noise-pop-ditty that Kaplan seems so adept at conjuring, flashbacks to "Sugarcube" and "Tom Courtenay," something that in a sane universe would be racking up the alt.rock radio airplay but instead is destined to be relegated to fans' "you've gotta hear this" mixtapes (or playlists). "Tonight's Episode" completes the noisy opening triad. It's a James McNew tune, but rather than the more melodic sweetness he typically brings, we get a frenetic groove that--yes, more lookbacks--brings to mind "Evanescent Psychic Pez-Drop."
We then get a much-needed breather with a gorgeous Georgia ballad, "Aselistine." And it's a purty one! Two more relatively laid-back tunes give us another three-song set.
And then they bring symmetry by closing the disc with three outstanding room-shakers. "Brain Capers," after a slow lead-in, opens up into a dense, messy tapestry, loads of overlapping vocals and keyboards and some indescribable guitar that sounds like Ira has spent the Covid years investing in some new effects pedals. It's wicked fun. The lengthy title track is a discordant, throbbing Krautrock drone, the one that sounds primed to close out a show, exiting the stage with the feedback ringing out behind encore pleas; and closer "Miles Away" is an equally-lengthy stunner, a beautiful Georgia vocal (those la-la-las! holy crap!) backed by an electronic beat and some Eno-esque ambience and damn it feels like it goes on forever, in the very best way imaginable.
Buy it on Bandcamp.
"Fallout" lyric video:"Sinatra Drive Breakdown" video:"Miles Away" audio: