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Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World (Matador)

16 January 2024
Should all bands that manage to survive four decades together make albums this good? Hoboken, New Jersey indie rock trio Yo La Tengo hurdle any sense of decline on their 17th album. Following 2019’s There’s a Riot Going On, 2023’s This Stupid World is the band’s second self-produced album recorded at its rehearsal space. The album captures the sound of the elemental interplay between guitarist Ira Kaplan, drummer Georgia Hubley, and bassist James McNew, leaning upon more than 30 years of collective experience and well-proven strength as a live act.

The set captures the band’s spontaneity and many of its disparate moods. Although Kaplan’s tendencies to explore and exorcise anxiety and darkness remain fully intact, This Stupid World is more upbeat than 2018’s There’s a Riot Going On and certainly more song-oriented than the ambient and improvisational instrumental work of 2020’s We Have Amnesia Sometimes.

“Sinatra Drive Breakdown” rides a sinister minor-key drone, with Kaplan’s atonal guitar skronk tugging against it. Kaplan sings of gain and loss, alternating hope and hopelessness, while Hubley sings in spectral harmony. The unfettered experimentation and unfiltered noise-rock suggest Sonic Youth pulled through the lo-fi filter of a less-bombastic Guided By Voices.

“Fallout” launches with a triumphant guitar riff and settles into a crystalline verse as Kaplan sings about reacting to the times with wincing surrender, while expressing the desire to withdraw and “turn back, unwind.” McNew’s steady bass provides firm footing for Kaplan’s skyfaring guitar lead and Hubley’s crashing drum accents.

“Tonight’s Episode” continues the sense of restrained tension that pervades This Stupid World, set to Hubley’s motorik rhythm and the mantra and hypnotic repetition of McNew’s bass line. Kaplan juxtaposes guitar parts, one twinkling and gently encouraging, the other peeling jagged shards from distressed metal.

Hubley sings the gentle country-folk strummer “Aselestine,” relating a tale of distance and grief. Hazy harmonic washes color the sonic backdrop with a resigned sadness, and the song’s sense of melancholy is augmented by Kaplan’s slide guitar.

The tumbling arpeggios of “Apology Letter” decorate a delayed attempt to make good after a fight. “I was wrong,” sings Kaplan over McNew’s gliding bass. “I knew right away, but I played it cool.” Although it’s natural to project that onto the married relationship of Kaplan and Hubley, the band’s penchants for storytelling and ambiguity are sufficiently known to suggest the assumption may be false. You hope for the humbled character, regardless, because the song is utterly relatable to anyone too ashamed to immediately admit when they’ve stuck their foot in their mouth.

“Brain Capers” blends krautrock, drone-pop, lo-fi, and shoegaze. Kaplan’s buzzy, spitting guitar rattles while Hubley and McNew play a beatific beat, suggesting a mind-meld between Dandy Warhols and My Bloody Valentine. On LP, the song resolves into a locked groove for an endless, soothing hum.

On its first-ever title track, Kaplan bluntly admits, “This stupid world, it’s killing me.” He follows with, “This stupid world, it’s all we have.” Despite a shattered sense of whatever once resembled optimism, Kaplan’s lyric seems more resolute than despairing. Singing from within the hurricane of the song’s shoegaze drone, the band’s joined voices even sound paradoxically at peace. It’s comforting encouragement not to give up during turmoil. Like Yo La Tengo, we can persevere alongside our trusted friends and loved ones to gradually perfect (or at least improve) what all share. (