Yo La Tengo- Fade

Yo La Tengo- Fade 8/10

For decades now eclectic indie pioneers Yo La Tengo have smothered our senses with a patchwork of fearless, rich musical textures. Each record containing more ideas in one bar than most bands achieve in a career. Fade is their 13th record since 1986 and is also one of their most tight and structured- 10 songs and 45 minutes in length. And lucky for us it’s a joy. The opening ‘Ohm’ is a manta- like , almost- krautrock lumbering elephant of a song, disappearing into squalling feedback at its close. It’s a great song but not typical of an otherwise gentle and warm record, which mostly recalls 2000’s And then Nothing Turned itself (albeit far less sprawling). ‘Is that Enough’ is the band at their most melodic and straightforward, recalling Belle and Sebastian at their most fey, prim and proper. ‘Well You Better’ follows in a similar glossy manner, and is at this juncture we come to what is both great and (for some) limiting about Fade. On the one hand it is the Hoboken trio at their most controlled and linear, and, yet, many fans will miss the unfurling journeys into the unknown that characterised their masterpiece I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (1997). Those of you expecting Yo La Tengo as sonic- noise explorers will also be a tad dismayed, off- kilter guitar a la Sonic Youth being replaced by plucked acoustics. But. And it’s a big but. There is a multitude to admire and enjoy about Fade. The shoegaze drone of ‘Stupid things’ is glorious, like a passenger- less train rumbling through a dusky evening, melancholy and plaintive. ‘Paddle- Forward’ tips its crumpled hat to La Tengo’s more garage- rock leanings, Hubley and Kaplan intoning “hang on tight” as  guitars swing loosely at the midriff. Side two is a different beast entirely. A suite of 5 complimentary songs that display the band at their most lush and mellow . The songs are almost ambient in their slow- burning woozy wash,  ‘Two trains’ even recalls Lambchop at their greatest- managing to evoke hope and loss in equal measure. ‘The Point of it’ is one of the most beautiful songs Yo La Tengo have put their name to and the finger-picked acoustics of ‘I’ll be Around’ drifts by as if in a daydream of summer haze and cicada song. As the cascade of trumpets and horns evanesce  in closer ‘Before We Run’ listeners should feel a warm contented glow, and most of all thankful that this exceptional band continue to shine forth and not fade.Image




I was never really a fan of crime fiction until I read the phenomenom that is the Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larsson. A complex trilogy which weaves a multitude of sub- plots and characters into an enthralling and dizzying depiction of Sweden’s underbelly. I was hooked. Since then I have immersed myself in the shadowy milieau of Scandi-Crime, taking in the dark delights of the novels of such luminaries as Jo Nesbo and Arnaldur Ingridason.

I thoroughly recommend The Snowman by Nesbo, which is much bleaker and hard- hitting than the Larsson novels. We follow detective Harry Hole through the streets of Oslo in pursuit of a serial killer who transforms victims into grotesque, distorted visions of snowmen. The marrying of a tradition associated with childhood play and innocence with this sickening and grisly act is the stuff of nightmares. The plot is full of twists, turns and double- takes, sending the reader down one murky alley after another. Harry Hole is a compelling protagonist, his private life is itself filled with ‘holes’, missed opportunities and failure; fighting the demon drink whilst struggling to cling on to a crumbling relationship. Similarly, Detective Erlendur in the novels of Ingridason is a divorced parent struggling to cope with a daughter who he barely sees and who herself has descended into a vortex of drug addiction and crime. We see a man on the edge who struggles to keep his private life from infringing upon the most public of professions. Novels like Jar City and Arctic Chill are sombre and uncompromising, where the otherworldly, ghostly landscape of Iceland is almost a character in itself. The glacial vistas effectively mirror the hardened characters and the dense, almost subterranean plots. It is a world where everyone has a skeleton, and where the past has an annoying habit of creeping back no matter how deeply you bury it. In fact all of Ingridason’s novels are about how the past informs the present; that we can never escape it.

I am currently reading a crime novel set in Italy titled Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon. Even though it is a movement away from  ‘Scandi- Crime’ it enjoys many similarites, especially how the setting effects the plot. Set in Venice it follows Commissario Brunetti who is investigating the death of an American soldier. The labyrinthine and stygian streets of Venice provide an ideal backdrop; the twists and turns of the streets and canals a cruel mimic for those taking place in the investigation. There is a constant sense of frustration as the investigation gets lost in bureaucratic dead-ends and the fractious relationship between Italian and American officials.

The descriptions of Venice are particularly well- realised, encapsulating the originality of a place steeped in history and myth. Having visited Venice myself a few years ago this novel took me straight back to this unique city. That is the sign of good writing.

In anticipation for their new LP ‘Port of Morrow’ which ‘hits the shelves’ (a phrase that already seems outdated) in late March I’ve been submerging myself in the wonderful harmonic soundscapes of The Shins. I was first introduced to the band through the truly wonderful film ‘Garden State’ (which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who needs a shot of uplift or an injection of emotion). Two tracks appear in the film, of which ‘New Slang’ features very prominantly in one particularly heart- tugging scene. It is a beautiful song, and a perfect introduction to the band. It’s parent album ‘Oh, Inverted World’ is a joy from the opening ‘Caring is Creepy’ (which also appears in ‘Garden State’) to the world- weary acoustics of ‘The Past and the Pending’. I can’t help but be warmed by their quirky sentimentality, and the shimmering guitars which lightly transport me to drowsy, cicada drenched summer evenings. All their albums are equally strong, but ‘Oh, Inverted World’ is their understated classic.


If you think OMD’s music is defined by popular hits such as the saccharine ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’ and the bouncy ‘Electricity’ give the album ‘Dazzle Ships’ a listen. As brave a departure in 1983 as Kid A was for Radiohead in 2000. Dazzling indeed…

‘Compartment C, Car 193’ is possibly my favourite ever piece of art. Like all of Hopper’s paintings there is a disquieting sense of unease as the dark, sinister and almost foreboding exterior threatens to infringe on the comfort of the train carriage. There is an overbearing sense of solitude and loneliness, again typical of Hopper’s art. The fact that the woman is reading is symbolic of isolation. She is immersed in her own world, closed off within herself. There is also a story to tell- where is the woman going? What is she reading? Is she alone in the carriage? I never tire of looking at this painting. I think more than anything it is the atmosphere that strikes a chord with me. It is one of subtlety and melancholy. Timeless. Everybody has at some point taken a train journey home at night. Think of that journey and the painting takes on a whole other depth of meaning.

On a recent and highly enjoyable jaunt to New York City I hoped to view some paintings by Edward Hopper, but disappointingly many of them were not on display. However, I was lucky enough to see ‘House by the Railroad’ (1923) in the MOMA. The building in the painting is famous for its inspiration on the iconic hotel in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ as well as the house in the American TV series The Addam’s Family. Again there is a sense of loneliness and isolation. The building stands alone seemingly the sole relic of a ghost town forgotton by history and the mad rush of modern America. It is desolate and forlorn; parts of it ravaged by nature. The majority of the windows are closed or covered by blinds, shut off from the world that has left it behind.

Edward Hopper- 'Compartment C, Car 193' (1938)

Edward Hopper- 'House By the Railroad' (1925)

My February playlist

Each month I will post the tracks that are currently floating my boat, cheering my soul or generally giving me pleasure. Hopefully it might introduce my fellow bloggers to something new, or even remind you of an old favourite that had got lost in the cobwebs of the cupboards and drawers of your mind. It may, however, just be of interest to myself. Happy listening.

Side One

1. Nada Surf- ‘Clear Eye Clouded Mind’ (from ‘The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy’, 2012) -a heady rush of hooks and melody from one of the most overlooked bands of the present day.

2. The War on Drugs- ‘Your Love is Calling My Name’ (from ‘Slave Ambient’, 2011)- An ambient/ krautrock crossbreed.

3. Television- ‘Ain’t That Nothin’ ‘ (from ‘Adventure’, 1978)- How did this record manage to escape my radar for so long? Almost as good as Marquee Moon which is a testimony if ever there was one. Check it out!

4. Lana Del Ray- ‘National Anthem’ (from ‘Born to Die’, 2012)- Lots of hype surrounds her at the moment and the album is far from perfect, however, I can’t help being seduced by her sultry vocals. There is something Lynchian about these tracks, and wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of Twin Peaks or the film Mulholland Drive.

5. The Cure- ‘All Cats Are Grey’ (from ‘Faith’, 1981)- If Winter was a song this is what it would sound like.

Side Two

1. David Bowie- Warszawa (Low, 1977) Added a whole different perspective to the wintry landscape on the train home this evening.

2. Feist- Graveyard (Metals, 2011) From my favourite record of last year. Every song a winner, and an album that manages to top the also excellent ‘A Reminder’. Great stuff.

3. Led Zeppelin- ‘Tangerine’ (from III, 1970)- A song that is never really talked about in the Led Zeppelin canon, although it does feature in the excellent film ‘Almost Famous’. Also the most beautiful song that I know about a piece of fruit 🙂

4. M83- ‘Kim & Jessie’ (from ‘Saturday’s=Youth, 2008)- I saw them play Leeds recently and this was one of the many highlights. A great alternative pop song.

5. Bruce Springsteen- ‘Incident on 57th Street’ (from ‘The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’, 1973)- A song that moves me every time I hear it, and one that still manages to surprise. Truly magnificent, and a song that combines more ideas than a band’s average career. Fingers crossed for a rendition in Manchester in June!