Music

Yo La Tengo: Fade

Photo by Carlie Armstrong

The first lines on Fade may be, "Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose," but Yo La Tengo proves that nothing could be further from the truth, at least in its own case.


Yo La Tengo

Fade

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2013-01-15
UK Release Date: 2013-01-14
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The first lines Ira Kaplan sings on Yo La Tengo’s 13th album Fade may be, "Sometimes the bad guys come out on top / Sometimes the good guys lose," but the arc of his band’s career proves that nothing could be further from the truth, at least in its own one case. While rock has always propped up self-destructive drama queens -- and even the contrarian indie scene has often preferred hyping up ill-tempered high-maintenance types -- the downright normal Hoboken trio proves that the good guys sometimes win, as the husband-and-wife team of Kaplan and Georgia Hubley are at the height of their popularity after almost three decades playing together as a band. In this case, the nicest, most grounded indie act probably ever has outlasted its more vaunted and dysfunctional peers like Pavement, Sebadoh, and even Sonic Youth, emerging as the unlikely last band standing from the scene's '90s halcyon days.

So when Kaplan croons "Nothing stays the same" a little later on the opener "Ohm", he's definitely not talking about Yo La Tengo, which has survived and thrived thanks to a consistency and even-keeled work ethic unmatched on the indie circuit. In other words, Yo La Tengo's hardly fading on Fade, the threesome’s good-natured nervous energy never flagging and its ESP-like back-and-forth as tight as ever. While much has been made -- by the band itself, no less -- about Yo La Tengo reining in its expansive, improvisational noiseplay in working for the first time with Tortoise whiz John McEntire as producer, not too much on Fade suggests the trio is holding back or refining its act, as the extra coating of feedback-y atmosphere on much of the album makes apparent.

If anything, the stunning "Ohm", a patented Yo La Tengo workout that's all about scuff-marked distortion pedals and elbow-greasy guitars instead of high-concept production trickery, makes it obvious right from the very start that the more things stay the same, the more things stay the same on Fade. The way Yo La Tengo combines Kaplan's almost hoarse vocals, fuzzy guitar, zingy effects, and strategic maracas and bongos to whip up a harmonious cacophony on "Ohm" would be serendipitous, except that this is what Yo La Tengo does and has always done, drawing rhythm out of melody and hooks out of grooves. "Ohm" is the quintessential articulation of Yo La Tengo's musical intuition, tapping into something that's inherent to the outfit's dynamic that can't be corralled by the conscious intentions of any producer or perhaps even the players themselves.

Indeed, much of Fade feels like an exercise in free association with previous Yo La Tengo efforts, making it an album that's appealingly familiar, yet without seeming like it only revisits past triumphs. Like a lower-key version of "Cherry Chapstick", the ragged charmer "Paddle Forward" conveys easy-going good vibes with ramshackle playing and just enough guitar oomph to give it a driving pop sensibility. On its heels, "Stupid Things" takes Electr-O-Pura-era guitar noodling as a starting point before transitioning into the cricket-chirping atmospherics of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, as if they were reinterpreting tender ballads like "My Heart's Reflection" and "The Hour Grows Late" with the benefit their early 2000s innovations. Likewise, after-hours ditty "Two Trains" would've fit comfortably on Nothing, its syncopated "Saturday"-like drum machine patterns adding some streetlamp-lit warmth to a still, dusky soundscape.

Whatever the collaboration with McEntire does introduce to the tried-and-true Yo La Tengo formula comes fully integrated into the mix, as not-too-obtrusive embellishments that don’t tamper with Yo La Tengo's alchemical balance, rather accenting and drawing out the group's sound just a little more. If there's one aspect where McEntire’s influence is felt the most, it's the incorporation of crisper instrumental accompaniments, most often in the form of clean string arrangements or brisk horn passages. While those elements are ones Yo La Tengo has utilized for awhile now, Fade does a better job of taking advantage of the way they can add more shape to the song structures, particularly in the case of Hubley's chamber-pop piece "Cornelia and Jane", which is bolder and sharper than similar tracks from the past few LPs. But it's on the panoramic closer "Before We Run" that McEntire's semi-classical touches shine through the best: Deservedly taking its place alongside the tour-de-force codas that are something of a Yo La Tengo tradition, "Before We Run" gains momentum with each repetition of the main melodic pattern, then gathers even more steam when the interplay of guitar and keyboard is punctuated by trumpets, violins, and skronky bits that add more depth and weight through the orchestration.

No matter how much -- or even whether -- Yo La Tengo's approach changes on Fade, ultimately what ties this latest batch of songs to the band’s oeuvre as a whole is the open-hearted mood and generous feeling it conveys, something that's a given whether the tracks sound the same or have an added layer of polish. The folksy sentimentality of “Is That Enough” gets across the band's warm-and-fuzzies the best on Fade, as its buzzy guitar, plaintive keyboard lines, and Kaplan’s in-his-head lyrics are dressed up by a stately string accompaniment that sneaks its way to the fore. It's a telling example of how Yo La Tengo is able to balance inviting, heartwarming nostalgia with just enough of a twist to make familiar sounding music feel fresh and vital after all the years. So when Kaplan asks, “Is that enough?,” and seems uncertain that it is, you know what the real answer is when it comes to Fade or actually any given Yo La Tengo effort: Yeah, Fade is more than enough, proof positive that these good guys always come out on top.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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