Album Review | This Stupid World Is Vintage Yo La Tengo
A few lifetimes ago, Mick Jagger famously said he’d rather be dead than perform “Satisfaction” at forty. We all know how that turned out for Mick and the Stones. However, as many of the rock n’ roll pioneers, at least those still alive, continue to perform at ages double what Jagger referenced, it begs the question: are older age and excellent rock music mutually exclusive?
Luckily for us, Hoboken’s Yo La Tengo provides an affirmative “nay” to that idea with their latest studio album, This Stupid World.
Now almost forty years into their musical journey and on their sixteenth proper studio album, the trio of Ira Kaplin, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew sound reinvigorated on their latest for Matador. Longtime fans of Yo La Tengo can approach This Stupid World with an eased mind – with this gorgeous set of nine intricate yarns, there’s no reinventing the wheel. Yet, it is easily their best since 2013’s Fade and will go down as one of their finest albums.
When lockdowns were life’s reality a few years ago, Yo La Tengo’s gift to counter the air of uneasiness was We Have Amnesia Sometimes, a collection of improvised instrumental ambient pieces all recorded around a single microphone in their rehearsal space. The group’s penchant for exploration is still vital on This Stupid World. Still, after some time living in the current carnage, Yo La Tengo has plenty to say about it.
In the opener, “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” things kick off with a wave of swirling noise as Kaplan casually mentions, “I see how it ends, I see the moon rise as the sun descends”. Rather than wallow in misery, Kaplan takes a few stabs at an aborted guitar solo before comfortably settling into a seven-and-a-half minute groove with Hubley and McNew that laughs in the face of the apocalypse.
Many of Yo La Tengo’s albums include lengthy runtimes with a healthy dose of songs – This Stupid World elects to trim down the tunes in favor of drawn-out jams that are closer to their classic album from 2006, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass than anything heard since. The title track is one of these gems, with Kaplan repeating the refrain, “this stupid world, it’s killing me, this stupid world, is all we have”.
Yo La Tengo chooses to close things out with a jab of optimism with “Miles Away,” which confronts inevitable aging head-on. It’s the most magnificent moment on a record full of them, one in which Georgia Hubley’s heavenly vocals surf on an air of disciplined feedback waves. “You feel alone, friends are all gone, keep wiping the dust from your eyes”, sings Hubley. “So many signs, I must be blind, how few of them I see”.
“Fallout” is classic Yo La Tengo and easily one of their best singles, but this entire record is a vintage outing from the indie vets who continually remind us there are other greats in New Jersey besides Bruce Springsteen. We are blessed that this band doesn’t share an interest in packing it up at forty. Instead, with This Stupid World, Yo La Tengo shows that age doesn’t lead to less shredding, and there is certainly no room for a decline when you’re one of the best bands to ever do this indie thing.