Yo La Tengo have always housed multitudes. They sound as confident with guitars turned up to tinnitus-inducing levels as they do singing after-hours ballads in tones softened so as not to wake the neighbours. Following on from the delicate brooding of previous record There’s A Riot Goin’ On, this latest set immediately marks itself as rougher, angrier and louder.
Eschewing the restraint that has largely characterised their post-millennium output, This Stupid World wastes little time in demonstrating fretboard fireworks. Giddying album opener ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ starts with a sharp acceleration of guitars that screech like chicaning Formula One cars. Guitarist and singer Ira Kaplan’s strings are then bent into a different musical language; a shoegaze verse is coloured by drifting clouds of cobalt, swirling like ink in water. Following track ‘Fallout’ has a graceful Yo La Tengo classicism, tidally swooning and addressing “time” whilst sounding utterly timeless. Elsewhere ‘Brain Capers’ throbs with a charged static. It plays like The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Murder Mystery’ being fed through a tumble drier on a particularly aggressive spin. “I remember the time,” Kaplan intones, though the memory doesn’t seem all that faithful, as shards of song fly around like false recollections grappling for attention. Through the fugue of headphone frying feedback a separate vocal track plays in each ear; “Mine is yours, and yours is mine” is the only perceptible phrase. Against the chaos it is a sweet reminder that Kaplan and drummer/vocalist Georgia Hubley are an enduring couple of ’90s indie rock.
Meanwhile the record’s title track finds grandeur in ugliness, its chained and gurning percussion rumbling half a beat behind the vocals. The effect is of a giant engine labouring itself into action, in a very literal sense it sounds industrial, it’s bracing and thrilling too. Kaplan is joined by Hubley on vocals, and against the squall, the two gently bemoan the passing of time.
Since 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out the Hoboken trio have tended to register their displeasure with the outside world by turning inwards; getting softer and quieter to counter an outside rage that becomes louder exponentially. Now as their lyrical focus turns to time and its steady march, resolution is wrought from noise. Its jagged edges are a reaction to the futility described in ‘Until It Happens’; “Prepare to die, prepare yourself while there’s still time”. What can one say to such nihilism? Call a spade a spade I suppose: This Stupid World indeed.
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