Album Of The Week: Yo La Tengo – This Stupid World

The indie pioneers capture the magic of three kindred spirits playing in the moment on their 16th album

Yo La Tengo don’t do formulas, much like they don’t do bad records. But there’s something to be said for a record from the Hoboken trio that starts on a longish, jammy-in-a-good-way track. Think of ‘Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind’, ‘Here To Fall’ or ‘Big Day Coming’, all of which set the scene perfectly for I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, Popular Songs and Painful. It’s not a pre-requisite for a great Yo La Tengo record but it’s reassuring all the same.

Yo La Tengo- "Sinatra Drive Breakdown" (Official Video)

On these terms, This Stupid World starts promisingly. ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ kicks things off with Georgia Hubley and James McNew already locked in a cyclical groove, like they’ve been playing forever, just waiting for us to tune in. Over the top comes Ira Kaplan’s soft croon and the sound of a guitar taking apart an amp in real time.

The song lopes off as nonchalantly as it wandered in before ‘Fallout’ bursts through, a hookier blast of noise that calls to mind the band at their most amiably catchy and fuzzy, like a more laidback ‘Sugarcube’ or ‘Tom Courtenay’. But where some bands would have limited a song like ‘Fallout’ to three minutes and change, Yo La Tengo let it wander where it wants, which, it turns out, is into more of Kaplan’s delightfully distressed guitar work.

Yo La Tengo - "Fallout" (Lyric Video)

‘Another Episode’ follows a similar vibe into atmospheric noise punctuated by Kaplan and Hubley’s harmonies. It becomes quickly apparent – even before the press release confirms it – that Yo La Tengo wrote and recorded This Stupid World in their rehearsal space, leaving the tape running while they let the songs find their way to interesting destinations. Even a gentle ballad like ‘Aselestine’ meanders like a stream, Hubley’s voice drifting on top like a lost paper boat.

In so many hands, this kind of loose exploration would be tiresome. The mind recoils at 25-minute “Wow, we got kinda lost in that” jam bands. Instead, Yo La Tengo’s technique has captured so many spontaneous rehearsal room moments that usually vanish into the ether. It all feels intimate, immediate and magical, although you don’t envy them the hours of tape they must have waded through. This Stupid World may lack the indie pop anthems that YLT regularly dole out, but it replaces them with moments of unexpected beauty.

Yo La Tengo- "Aselestine" (Official Audio)

Throughout, time hangs heavy, whether the band are trying to break away from its endless march or become more aware of its irreplaceable preciousness. While time carries on doing its thing regardless, This Stupid World has all the feeling of doors closing; the world being banished and three people doing what they do best and losing themselves in it. It’s a great place to lose yourself, too.

Released: 10 Feb 2023
Label: Matador
On Tour: April 2023 – Get tickets here