Yo La Tengo wastes away with style on ‘This Stupid World’    


Yo La Tengo makes soundtracks for liminal spaces. Since their formation in 1984, the three-piece band has become a reliable mainstay in indie rock. With classic albums such as “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out” and “I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One,” their tendency to make music perfect for still, dry summer nights has led to a remarkably consistent discography. However, many fans can agree that it has been a while since Yo La Tengo has released a truly excellent record. With their new album, “This Stupid World,” the band serves up some new ideas while tapping into that special atmosphere that only they seem to be able to capture.  

The soundscapes in “This Stupid World” can be largely summed up by the phrase “comfortable melancholy.” Hazy guitars and soft, droning vocals wash over listeners like a warm blanket, while profound sadness lurks somewhere in the background. The opening track, “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” is a prime example. Georgia Hubley’s drums and James McNew’s bass lock in for a simple but hypnotic groove you could dance to. Meanwhile, Ira Kaplan’s jagged, sporadic electric guitar lines cut through the mix like a hot knife. Kaplan’s lyrics signal to listeners that all good things end. 

“This Stupid World” sounds like the feeling of resignation in the face of unrelenting troubles. Kaplan yearns to escape reality on the exquisitely-textured lead single “Fallout:” “Every day it hurts to look / I’d turn away, if only I could / I want to fall out of time.”  

Yo La Tengo captures a feeling I’m sure many of us have experienced at least once these past few years. As billionaires, climate change, disease and a myriad of other problems have carved permanent spaces in news outlets and social media, it becomes impossible to feel at ease with the world.    

Each of the nine tracks touch upon different lyrical topics, and all of them are somber to some degree. In the folky “Aselestine,” Hubley mourns someone who is no longer there either physically or mentally. “I wait for you / It’s not the same,” she sings. Even Kaplan’s boasting about the numerous yo-yo tricks he can do in the playful “Tonight’s Episode” feels like a coping mechanism where he focuses on what few aspects of his life he can control. 

Despite its downtrodden sadness, “This Stupid World” somehow never feels too depressing. Listening to Yo La Tengo always feels like catching up with an old friend. There is a familiarity found in the band’s drones and buzzing guitars you can always rely on.  

Perhaps a little more variety and slightly stronger songwriting at points would benefit the album, but the only time “This Stupid World” truly leaves more to be desired is on “Until It Happens.” The beeping noise that lasts the entirety of the track sticks out like a sore thumb, quickly becoming annoying and distracting. It’s a shame, because every other aspect of the song melds together nicely.  

“This Stupid World” finishes off incredibly strong. The title track’s entrancing introduction is extended to the point where you can’t remember when the song began. The repeated refrain of “This stupid world / It’s killing me / This stupid world / Is all we have,” says so much with so few words. Yes, there are many aspects about the current state of the world that, for lack of a better term, suck, but we need to do what we can and appreciate what we have with those we care about. Finally, on the closer “Miles Away,” Kaplan’s gorgeous singing combined with the slow, foggy instrumental makes it feel as if the song is slowly evaporating into mist.   

Nearly 40 years into their career, Yo La Tengo have crafted the perfect soundtrack for the stillness of dusk. You can easily get lost in “This Stupid World’s” hypnotic rhythms and comforting atmosphere. As the chaos of the world becomes too much to bear, rest assured the band will be right there with you. 

Rating: 8/10 

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