The ongoing joke with Yo La Tengo is that bassist James McNew is still the new guy, 30 years later. It’s a funny joke. Here, he handles the recording of the new This Stupid World album and takes over the vocals while delivering an excellent bass groove on “Tonight’s Episode”. First single “Fallout” delivers an excellent YLT performance – a fuzzy pop song where Ira Kaplan sings “I want to fall out of time”. The other Kaplan highlight is on the slower “Apology Letter”. A soothing repeating guitar line lays the bed while he delivers the deadpan lyrics – “And then I got mad because you got mad/Another one of my delightful quirks”.
Possibly on the other end of that apology is wife Georgia Hubley who sings the somber acoustic track “Aselestine”. Waves of noise gather on the title track, where the vocals are buried at sea before the electronic beat of “Miles Away” where Hubley returns to vocals on the icy atmospheric closer. “Burdens rise/Avert your eyes/The pain creeps in anyhow”. On their 17th album, the trio of Yo La Tengo deliver a late period classic that keeps their distinct sound while adding rivers of other sounds.
Back in 2013 we called New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo one of the greatest American guitar bands ever. The trio returns with their fifteenth studio album and first set of all originals since that year’s Fade album. While learning how to use Pro Tools, bassist James Mcnew started recording the band’s practice sessions and soundscapes which lead to working on songs for this release.
First single “For You Too” is lo-fi guitars teamed with heartbreaking lyrics – “but if it’s not too late, if I could protect you… maybe I could be that guy”. Ira Kaplan also takes on the vocals with mumbly goodness in “She May, She Might”. Georgia Hubley’s lead on “Shades of Blue” is surely one of the finest songs ever written about picking out paint colours. Instrumentals “You Are Here” and “Here You Are” do a fine job in bookending the disc.
In between, the album is broken up by three, five minute instrumentals including the atmospheric “Shortwave” and the jazzy “Above The Sound”. Having all three in a row slows the momentum down as the rest of the album is a mix of more instrumentals, song sketches, and subdued material. Only “Esporte Casual” lightens the mood and sounds like the kind of musical interlude that blur used to do so well. Several great Yo La Tengo tracks abound in the first half but the second half of There’s a Riot Going On is not nearly as memorable.