Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On

by Brian Thompson Rating:8 Release Date:2018-03-16
Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On
Yo La Tengo - There's a Riot Going On

In the fall of 1971, just as the nation was becoming increasingly divided by blood and turmoil, Sly and the Family Stone released the seminal There's a Riot Goin’ On, a record booming with the passion of revolution. With this in mind, Yo La Tengo have channeled a similar fear (though with an expected tonal shift) into a calming album that functions simultaneously as both a direct response to and a welcome distraction from the chaos at hand. There’s a Riot Going On further showcases the band’s laudable ability to expand upon an established sound without ever losing sight of the cohesive, delicate enthusiasm that makes it blossom so organically.

Even in the midst of a cutting political statement, the album embodies the intrinsic joy brimming forth within the Yo La Tengo catalog. Riot is overflowing with breezy beach tunes (the aptly named “Polynesia #1”) and flowery summer rock anthems (“For You Too”), with 1950s island dance numbers (“Let’s Do It Wrong”) and bouncy calypso beats (“Esportes Casual”). Even moments of sadness, such as the feathery, upbeat “Shades of Blue,” are kept beneath peppy waves of blissful devotion.

Much like the band’s previous work, the record takes advantage of shifting styles, unafraid of dipping into exploratory ventures. As we see on the boiling, psychedelic “She May, She Might,” Yo La Tengo maintains subtle touches of world music peppered throughout their tracks. “Dream Dream Away” begins as desert acoustic twang and evolves into a swirling, ambient landscape that carries over into “Shortwave” — charged with static interference — and spirals even further into experimental territory with “Above the Sound.” Encapsulating the diffusive tone, “Here You Are” caps the record off with a seven-minute, shape-shifting jam session, reversing the thesis of the album’s opener, the soothing, instrumental “You Are Here.”

Although the band’s core lineup — Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew — has remained virtually unchanged since George H.W. Bush was in office, it’s refreshing to see that they are still a young band at heart, open to building upon each other’s strengths and truly only in the business for the love of playing with one another. Much of the record was born out of indiscriminately riffing over previously recorded clips in their Hoboken loft, leading to unexpected groovy turns, such as funky, off-kilter melodies (“Ashes,” “Out of the Pool”) and smoky jazz ballads (“What Chance Have I Got,” “Forever”). It is in these nostalgic extended takes where the admiration for Sly and the Family Stone shines through.

At times comforting and at others challenging, Yo La Tengo continue to probe the limits of their unique expression. Building a cohesive record around seemingly conflicting movements is no small feat, and yet we should expect nothing less from these unassuming rock legends. There’s a Riot Going On is at once the gripping culmination of a robust career and the deliberate mark of a band who shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

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