Why Yo La Tengo’s ‘This Stupid World’ Could Be Your New Favorite Album

There are two sides to Yo La Tengo. Both are very good sides.

The first is quiet, contemplative Yo La Tengo. That’s the one we’ve seen the most of in recent years. Sometimes haunting and/or listless, other times endearing. Occasionally, like on tracks like Looney Tunes, a sonic lazy river that seemingly stretches forever.

The second is rocking Yo la Tengo. Sometimes it’s vaguely menacing, as with tracks like Shaker. The sound is locomotive. I’ll also include their poppier side and impeccable taste in picking covers here.

Either way, they’re giving us straight rippers with Kaplan barely in control, playing like one of those inflatable wavy guys you see at low-rent used car lots.

Instead of a specific direction, they just chose ‘em all

Messy. Precise. Jarring. Soothing. Over the last forty(ish) years, Yo La Tengo have consistently been an exercise in contradiction. And yet somehow, it all fits together nicely, as it’s supposed to. 

This is one of those bands that always sound like themselves, no matter what boundary they’re pushing or which norm they’re winging out a third-story window.

It’s always a YLT record, ya know?

On their latest release, “This Stupid World,” they’ve kept all of that going.

Sidebar: Yo La Tengo can be a band that makes you work before you get it. The full listening experience requires intention. There’s friction. The effort is always worth it, though, with something new revealing itself with every spin. And while they have some songs that could broadly be classified as singles, this band’s work is best heard from A1 to the closer.

So I have to say that for as much hype as there was leading up to the release of This Stupid World, I’m grateful that they only released a couple of tracks ahead of time. Hearing the record unfold for the first time is a joy. 

The record opens strong with Sinatra Drive Breakdown. Look, I know “motorik” is fast becoming the most overused adjective in my arsenal, right up there with “awesome” and “fantastic.” but for this track, it fits. Just trust me here.

Drummer Georgia Hubley and bassist James “new guy since ‘92” Mcnew lay down a killer groove that promptly chugs on for 7+ minutes. So much for radio-friendly.

Another rule proudly ignored.

Next up is “Fallout,” easily their most pure pop offering since perhaps Ohm off of Fade, or Electr-O-Pura’s Tom Courtenay. With an easy rhythm and quasi-call-and-response-like chorus of:

Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time
Wanna fall out, fall out of time

Don’t be surprised if you get caught singing this at a red light. I’m not saying this has happened to me, but I’m not not saying it, either.

This band is famously introverted, with Hubley sometimes giving the impression that she’s using the drum kit as a shield. But perhaps more than anyone else, she has come more into her own with each release.

On “Aselestine,” her vocals are unguarded & lovely, even as she’s singing Where are you/The drugs don’t do/What you said they do.

On closer, “Miles Away,” they’re endearing as she laments those she’s lost along the way.

You feel alone
Friends are all gone
Keep wiping the dust from your eyes
So many signs
I must be blind
How few of them I see

But to get there, we get to get through a few more tracksKaplan’s usual knack for squishing an entire backstory into a paragraph is on display throughout the record, but perhaps no more so than on Apology Letter, where he sings:

It’s so clear
What I’m trying to say, but right on cue
It doesn’t ever come that easily
‘Cause the words
Derail on the way from me to you
It seems to happen with some frequency

Brain Capers is expansive and rides a thick groove. It’s relentless—and it’s my favorite song on the record. Kaplan is in full glorious wavy inflatable guy mode here.

The title track is a steely shoegaze monster. A weighted blanket of the band’s distortion and feedback, with Kaplan telling us, “This stupid world, it’s all we have.”

They know the only way out is through, and this is their way of telling us that if it’s not gonna end well, we can at least have a good time on the way down.

Bottom Line: Yo La Tengo has never been a band that fits nicely in a box, and 2023’s no time to start. They’ve gone from critics darling to your favorite band’s favorite band to indie rock elder statesmen.

And all of that from a band that feels more like neighbors you’d ask to watch your house while on vacation.

With seventeen records and a bunch of EPs and singles, this would’ve been a fine capstone to a storied discography. Instead, it feels like a band hitting its stride with the best yet to come. 

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