Yo La Tengo delivers a restrained and beautiful album in response to a world in chaos | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Yo La Tengo delivers a restrained and beautiful album in response to a world in chaos

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For its new album, There’s a Riot Going On (Matador), Yo La Tengo borrowed the title of Sly & the Family Stone’s turbulent 1971 classic, but despite what the name might suggest, the music’s surface couldn’t be more placid. In fact, it’s one of the trio’s most gorgeously restrained albums. Self-recorded on a home computer, and mixed by former Chicagoan John McEntire, the album has an attractively modest sound; aqueous organ drones, e-bowed electric guitar tones, gentle electronic and live percussion, and strummed acoustic guitars all cradle the tender, whispered vocal harmonies of Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan. Considering the current state of the world it may be no surprise that on this release the band embraces a kind of insularity: “Shades of Blue” and “She Might She Might” both express a desire to hole up inside and a fear of ugliness outside. Likewise, the mewling ambience of instrumentals such as “You Are Here” and “Shortwave” present an immersive sonic cocoon, while the irresistible “shoo-wop, shoo-wop” backing vocals on “Forever” suggest a more innocent time. The group also delivers a dreamy slice of escapism with a delicate cover of Michael Hurley’s “Polynesia.” By contrast, on the album’s most upbeat song, “For You Too,” Kaplan addresses a darker side of life head-on. When his character describes his own lack of civility and hot-headedness before making a romantic offer of help and protection, it’s as if acknowledging his own imperfections and striving for self-improvement. There’s an apocalyptic feel as the recording winds down. On “Here You Are” the vocalists embrace what matters most in a world gone mad: “Most days, we circumvent / Tune out the world / Except our friends,” they sing with a somnambulant glow that feels like something between a last gasp and message from the heavens.   v

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