Now in their fourth decade as a band, indie rock trio Yo La Tengo understand the intricacies of time. On their first LP since 2018, This Stupid World, the group debates the passing of time, through moving lyricism and a powerful display of the atmospheric musical kinship they have built up since their 1984 debut.
At the base of almost every track on their latest offering, the trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew are playing together at the same time, leading it to become their most live-sounding release. Over the years, the band have worked with outside producers and mixers, yet for This Stupid World, the band were keen to do everything themselves.
The epic seven-minute ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ opens the album with a hypnotic bass line and sporadic flashes of distorted guitar. Lyrically, time is a key concept throughout the album, with the passing of time addressed in the opener – “I see how clearly it ends, I see the moon rise as the sun descends”. The theme of time is continued on the shorter, catchy ‘Fallout’, with the line “I want to fall out of time, reach back, unwind” demonstrating some of the self-examination present across the record.
Mesmerising bass and drum lines are once again brought back to the fore on ‘Tonight’s Episode’, with the heavy-sounding rhythm section being interspersed with gentle acoustic guitar notes. While the importance of being independent and confidently self-reliant on your own decisions is addressed in the lyrics, “Don’t bring me down with your advice, I’ve got my own plan”.
Georgia Hubley takes on lead vocals for the soothingly tender ‘Aseletine’. The grippingly dark track again contemplates time – “The clock won’t tick, I can’t predict, I can’t sell your books, though you asked me to”. Before the haunting ‘Until It Happens’ directly confronts mortality with Kaplan offers the blunt advice, “Prepare to die, prepare yourself while there’s still time”, while also providing a reminder to make the most of time, “Stay alive, look away from the hands of time”.
‘Brain Capers’ sees the band combine guitar chords, bass loops, and drumbeats while blending Hubley and Kaplan’s voices into swirling layers. After which, the drums and vocals blend to create a trance-like sound throughout the title track, ‘This Stupid World’. The lyrics present a rallying call, although it is bemoaned that, “This stupid world – it’s killing me”, it is acknowledged that “This stupid world – is all we have”.
The blissful ‘Miles Away’ closes the album on a more positive note, with Hubley presenting the passing of time as something to confront, rather than fear. The soft vocals offer hope, “Ease your mind, bide your time, hold those thoughts for now”, with optimism rather than pessimism being the parting shot thrown by Yo La Tengo.
Having been together since 1984, Yo La Tengo has a collective experience of the passing of time, leading them to beautifully present the theme through This Stupid World. The record manages to be hauntingly poignant yet resilient in the face of the continuous passing of time.
The acknowledgement that things will one day end is present throughout, but acknowledging life keeps going regardless prompts hope, and inspires a keenness to make the most of what time is left. The main lesson the record seeks to teach is that although the world can, at times, be filled with pain and difficulties, as the band state, “This stupid world – is all we have”.
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