Yo La Tengo, “There’s a Riot Going On”

Yo La Tengo
There’s a Riot Going On
MATADOR
8/10

Sly Stone may have titled his antiseptic funk masterpiece There’s a Riot Goin’ On, but there’s little to the record’s druggy remove that suggests a mob scene or protest in the streets; if anything, the album chronicles both a nation in shambles and a man in free-fall with detached ambivalence. In much the same way, Yo La Tengo’s album of (nearly) the same name—released in a time and place where takin’ it to the streets feels increasingly virtuous and necessary—never fumes, rages, or steams the way you think it might. It’s an album of its time, sure enough, but not because it offers anything in the way of bottled rage or codified indignation. What it offers is an invitation to stop; slow down; breathe in and breathe out; take some time for your own mental health, in whatever moments of quiet you can wrestle away from the morning’s weary headlines.

What the indie rock veterans offer here is essentially an album’s worth of palate-cleansers—songs of pastoral purity and laid-back reflection. They aren’t meant to summon outrage, but to offer a reprieve from it. As such, even the loud ones feel simple and uncluttered—each one a moment of surrender, a minor gem of unhurried grace.

“For You Too,” which pulses with fuzz and static, is the closest thing here to a rocker. For the most part, these songs move along at their own ambling gait, revealing several different ways to be chill. “Shortwave” is sumptuous ambiance, achieved through one slow wash of synths after another. “Esportes Casual” is a clipped Brazilian beach groove, while “Let’s Do It Wrong” and “What Chance Have I Got” are both elevator music exotica. Album closer “Here You Are” spends seven minutes layering upright bass, reverb, and hand percussion, yet its pace never quickens to anything more than a druggy crawl. “Dream Dream Away” is built on a simple acoustic strum, with fluttering sound effects and distant vocals swirling in the backdrop.

The album is all grace notes—something that’s underscored by Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley singing with total, unflappable zen; they let themselves be untroubled here, and invite you to join them for as long as these tranquil tunes reverberate. 

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