Feb 14, 2023
By Michael James Hall
Yo La Tengo’s superb 17th album, This Stupid World, sees the Hoboken trio make a triumphant stylistic return to peak form. Ascending to the throne of alt-rock royalty with essentials like 1997s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, Ira Kaplan’s crew may have never “crossed over” in the manner of a number of their contemporaries, but their ongoing attitude of playful experimentation has always kept them in the minds and hearts of critics and fans.
This Stupid World is a tender, tenebrous beauty. It first offers up the percussive drone of “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” which evokes their epic “Night Falls on Hoboken” with shimmering guitars, exquisite, looping bass from James McNew, and whisper-soft twin vocals from Kaplan and drummer Georgia Hubley: “I see brief glimpses of clear sky/I see times I wanted, regained and lost again.”
These simultaneously urgent and gentle lyrical musings run through the album on songs such as the acoustic specter of “Until It Happens,” Kaplan softly singing “Prepare to die/Prepare yourself while there’s still time/It’s simple to do/And then it happens to you.” It’s an apt lullaby for morbid times.
The band contrast depressive notes with sunlit simplicity across both “Apology Letter” (“If I were to smile at you/Would you smile at me?”) and the buzzing, vital title track, where the variance is most evident: “This stupid world is killing me/This stupid world is all we have.”
Their sense of humor remains intact, particularly on “Tonight’s Episode,” which offers an increasingly bizarre list of yo-yo tricks (“I can mow the lawn/I can steal your face”) muttered by McNew over a seemingly spontaneous jam.
As thrilling as it is meditative, the noisy, nostalgic psychedelia of “Fallout” contrasts perfectly with the slow strum of “Aselestine,” which features a beautiful, intimate lead vocal from Hubley. There’s more surging, unbridled racket on “Brain Capers,” more woozy, introspective wonder from Hubley on closer “Miles Away.”
This Stupid World is an album that both confronts and ameliorates its fears. It deals in both luxury and sparsity, weaving both into a heartwarming whole. It’s a remarkable feat for a band this far down the road to create something that feels like a potential classic, both timely and timeless, a record that pushes the edges of darkness, all the while offering a reassuring light. (www.yolatengo.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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