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Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On

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An album laid-back to the point of prostration from old hands of indie rock.

Image of Yo La Tengo – There’s a Riot Going On

(Released Fri 16 Mar 2018 on Matador Records)

Don’t let the provocative title fool you – Yo La Tengo haven’t traded in their trademark serenity for a soapbox and a megaphone. The album name is indeed both a nod to the current turmoil unfolding on the global political stage and to the 1971 Sly and the Family Stone album of the same name. But whereas the latter was meant as a figurative middle finger to societal and personal upheaval, Yo La Tengo’s offering is more akin to a gentle back rub.

Far from getting involved in the riot and making your voice heard, the band seem to prescribe staying in for the night (or fortnight, or foreseeable future), running a lovely lavender bath, lighting some candles and popping on their new album. Its tranquilising intentions are announced from the off, as six-minute opener You Are Here lulls with repetition the same way a skilled masseuse pummels various body parts over and over again with all the intensity of a four-year old. The same anaesthetic effect is felt throughout the record, particularly on Ashes, Polynesia #1 and closer Here You Are. The sense of lethargy is not unpleasant, but pretty much inescapable.

This placidity is ever-present, though briefly interrupted with a few pace-changing tracks. Shades of Blue represents one of the livelier numbers, whisking us back to the sixties with some flower-power, navel-gazing pop – though even this sounds as though The Monkees have swapped the weed for an even stronger sedative. For You, Too is perhaps the standout track, with a rumbling backbeat overlaid with buzzing guitar and Ira Kaplan’s plaintiff warblings. Forever is also conspicuous among the rest, mostly for the unexpected doo-wopping which hides behind the Kaplan’s lead vocals once more.

Elsewhere, Dream Dream Away is a minimalist exercise in mellowness, putting the brakes on proceedings even further, as does What Chance Have I Got. Shortwave is a soothing but entirely forgettable single note stretched out over six minutes, while Above the Sound jars with its intentionally off-kilter chord progression trundling along aimlessly – it’s probably the closest that Yo La Tengo get to unsettling on the whole album. Esportes Casual, meanwhile, is a bossanova piece of fluff that would be equally at home in a lift, on a gameshow or backing a Eurotrash sketch. Enjoyable enough in its own right, but unlikely to change any lives or have you hankering for repeat listens.

That’s a fair description of the album as a whole. Yo La Tengo have tinkered with various musical genres over the years, though they’ve never departed very far from their proclivity for feel-good, easy-listening anthems whichever sphere they’ve inhabited. The same is true here – it’s certainly a positive reaction to a riot, but one likely to get trampled underfoot and forgotten when the violence reaches the front door.