Review: Yo La Tengo Ponders Stupidity with Insight and Intellect

Yo La Tengo/This Stupid World/Matador
3.5 out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

With their 16th album, This Stupid World, Yo La Tengo more or less lays it on the line. We are living in a stupid world, one that often makes no sense, whether it comes to dealing with wars, insidious politicians, or just general ignorance.

Then again, after some 16 albums released over the course of nearly four decades, Yo La Tengo might be expected to have a general sense of the mindset they’re immersed in. At the same time, they continue to challenge both themselves and their audiences, creating a sound that’s rich, riveting, and, as always, often unexpected. It’s both auspicious and intimidating to a great degree, particularly when it comes to the psychedelic swirl of the album’s opening track, the oddly dubbed but perhaps appropriately named “Sinatra Drive Breakdown.” Other songs come across as equally odd and unexpected—the clip-clop rhythm of “Until It Happens,” the elegiac and ethereal “Miles Away and the drone-like delivery of “Tonight’s Episode,” among them.

Of course, being the inventive ensemble they are, it’s clear that Yo La Tengo is intent on making some sort of statement. This stupid world – it’s killing me / This stupid world – is all we have, they declare in the cerebral yet stupefying title track. Yet, there’s also a resolve and resilience inherent here as well, even though it sometimes seems to reside just below the surface. You feel alone / Friends are all gone, Georgia Hubley sings on the album’s final farewell, the closing track titled “Miles Away.” Keep wiping the dust from your eyes.

Of course, nothing’s as easy as simply casting aside concern. The frenzied sound of “Brain Capers” implies certain complications just as “Fallout” seems intent on driving through whatever haze continues to confound us. There’s very little here that’s as clear-cut as the overall messaging might imply. Nevertheless, it’s clear that This Stupid World still manages to impart wisdom and reflection in equal and apt measures.

Photo by Cheryl Dunn / Matador Records 

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