Yo La Tengo: There’s A Riot Going On (Matador)

On their fifteenth album, the storied US indie rock outfit are on glorious form

Released Mar 16th, 2018 via Matador / By Erick Mertz
Yo La Tengo: There’s A Riot Going On  (Matador) If the Pixies are often hailed as pioneers of the loud/quiet/loud alt-rock dynamic, then perhaps Hoboken, New Jersey three-piece Yo La Tengo should lobby to take the mantle of murmur/simper/murmur. Of late, and by late I mean the last decade, it seems to make the most sense to characterize Yo La Tengo records in terms of intimacy, as seemingly gone are the ruffled guitars of say, I Can Feel The Heart Beat As One or the neophyte, noisier experiments that pre-dated even that. This record is a touch less intimate than say, 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, or 2003’s Summer Sun with respect to how Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley interact within song. On those records, by now classics, listeners came away with an almost voyeuristic sense. We were the fly on the wall and loved every second of it. This is not to say that the band’s signature cohesion is less exciting on There’s A Riot Going On, it just seems as though that coziness is stretched out. To borrow one of the band’s older images, it’s like the sleeves on the Yo La Tengo sweater have pulled far enough to embrace everyone.

Separated in the terms of songs, There’s A Riot Going On has one conspicuous absence. It does not feature any of the longer, ten-plus-minute alt-rock jams, like Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m A Godkind or the epic, Spec Bebob (which are some of my favorite of this style). Instead, the songs are much shorter and fit together a little tighter. By contrast, the longest track on the record is the closer, Here You Are coming in at a positively brief seven minutes. Yo La Tengo expands their sound, but here they accomplish this ambitious through short instrumental interludes, like You Are Here and Shortwave and the liquid, elevator music inspired, Esportes Casual. My favourite tracks on the record, ones garnering consideration for the all-time Yo La Tengo playlist are the lush, emotionally evocative Georgia Hubley song, Shades Of Blue with its melancholy connection of mood and colour, and the bubbly, tropical invitation to sin, Let’s Do It Wrong with the album’s gem, For You Too featuring one Ira’s best hauntingly, loving vocals, a fuzzy rhythm section and sparkling guitar. As the first single, For You Too is a loving rocker, a standby that signals, once again, that they are one of the best bands out there.

What Yo La Tengo distinguishes from other contemporary bands is their ability to seize on the bittersweet in simply being human. Shades Of Blue connects emotions and color, mourning the inevitability of that blue crayon. For You Too finds Ira singing about wanting to be that guy, ostensibly to the woman with whom he has crafted one of rock’s great modern day legacies. The band always seems to tell the lyrical story from the vantage point of being too small, too hopelessly loving, or too simple. They’re always one tug, one push, one kiss away from coming unraveled. But Ira and Georgia leave their listeners feeling like falling off that cliff is the more glorious fate. I like that sensibility. As a listener, I pine for a voice as hapless as mine seems.

There’s A Riot Going On is Yo La Tengo’s fifteenth studio album over the last thirty-four years, a monumental career, filled with distinction. This record is as gloriously nuanced, mercurial and colorful as any of the previous releases, perhaps even more so, considering its need to stand up to its predecessors by comparison. A few times through the LP, I was left wondering whether this was Yo La Tengo’s statement record on the contemporary state of affairs. They’re sage. As a band they’ve seen everything, trouble and peace. My sense is that if they were going to make a statement on the world today, it would be in the statement of love for each other, only, in true Yo La Tengo fashion, with the sweater sleeves stretched out, just a bit.