Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On review – blue sky doo-wop with a crunchy rock edge

(Matador)

The chorus that Georgia Hubley sings softly on the second track of Yo La Tengo’s 15th studio album serves almost as a mission statement for the trio: “Whenever I see you, there are shades of blue.” Yo La Tengo are, as so often, blue: but theirs is not the midnight blue of despair, but the pale blue of melancholy, and sometimes the sharp, unending blue of a cloudless sky. The song exemplifies the group in other ways: its jaunty rhythm is taken straight from 60s beat pop, befitting their record collector reputation, but recast into something somnambulant and soothing all their own.

There are flickers of the old fire on There’s a Riot Going on (which bears no similarity to Sly and the Family Stone, to the surprise of precisely no one). On For You Too, James McNew’s bass puts all four to the floor, with the fuzz pedal turned on, but Ira Kaplan refuses to rise to the bait, picking arpeggios around the basslines instead of wigging out, murmuring his vocal – but for the most part Yo La Tengo are gently blowing on embers rather than poking the logs.

After the relative brevity of 2013’s Fade, There’s a Riot Going on heads back beyond the hour-mark, which does mean some longueurs: the jazzy, percussion-led Above the Sound meanders around for nearly six minutes unsuccessfully trying to locate a point. But then will come something as glorious as Forever: doo-wop-inspired backing vocals, a double bass, and Kaplan crooning over shapeshifting percussion: it’s gorgeous and elusive, the perfect expression of Yo La Tengo’s blending of ambience and rock classicism.

Contributor

Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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