Spanning countless styles and 13 albums, sprawling is an apt description of Yo La Tengo's discography to date. And though the band's latest adds more welcomed depth to its catalogue, Fade is most memorable for its tunnel vision focus. Sure, it's bookended by songs that clock in at over six minutes, but don't let the length fool you; at the core of its wounded heart, Fade is a collection of meticulously crafted pop songs through and through.
So while the opener "Ohm," gives itself room to stretch out, it's essentially an anthem about persevering through tough times that you could play in the car for your mom without any complaints (unlike, say, "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind," the 11 minute intro track from 2006's I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Beat Your Ass.). "Ohm" gives Fade a welcomed kick-start, but the second track, "Is That Enough?" is the standout that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The waves of classical strings and Ira Kaplan's playful intonation give the song a deceivingly upbeat shell, but within lies the tale of a man whose love alone isn't enough to save a dying relationship. Themes of romantic frustration flow throughout Fade, collecting in a pool of distortion at the beginning of "Paddle Forward." But while the song's violent feedback hints at a looming blowup, Yo La Tengo remain reserved throughout "Paddle Forward" and the rest of Fade, masking tension with somber kindness.
For an album that narrates the ebb and flow of tumultuous love, the beautifully nuanced "Stupid Things" is a deserving centerpiece. Despite the negativity inherent in its name, "Stupid Things" finds Kaplan at his most endearing, whispering "I always know that when we wake up, you're mine." The album's second side fades into mellower, longer fare as its name suggests, but there are plenty of reasons to keep listening, like penultimate track "The Point of It," which gives Kaplan's account of trying to make up after a pointless argument. Ultimately, this album only tells one side of that argument, just like it only shows one side of Yo La Tengo. But it's a testament to the band and the album that once you hear Fade, you'll want to hear the rest of the story.