In their first ‘proper’ album since 2013’s Fade, Yo La Tengo return with There’s A Riot Going On, something thoughtful and mellow to soothe in these troubled times. Full of intertextual layering and referencing, this album is a rich and cohesive piece.
In reference to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 There’s A Riot Goin’ On, which in turn referenced Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Yo La Tengo have set themselves up with a degree of musical expectation. There are a number of places in which There’s A Riot Going On echoes both artists. ‘Out Of The Pool’ is reminiscent of ‘Inner City Blues’, a background of urban music, the most overtly so on this album, with a voiceover. ‘Ashes’ lounges like Gaye at his gentlest but also most reflective as on the title track. The vocal is much more minimal here and is lighter and airy.
There is also a Brian Eno quality that is not only reflected in ‘Ashes’ but on ‘You Are Here’, too. Much of the sound is likely to be a consequence of the recording process. Eschewing rehearsing and jamming, There’s A Riot Going On was recorded over five years, a time in which the songs have been allowed to ferment, rather like good whisky. That Yo La Tengo continued to add to the tracks over this period, provides an interesting multi-layering, a musical palimpsest. ‘You Are Here’ initially sounds like someone is running a wand around the rim of a singing bowl. This gives way to a complex layering of guitars, percussion and keys as well as anything else that has been laying around in the previous half decade. But what you get is the peace and calm of a watercolour and, at nearly six minutes long, definitely qualifies for trance status.
Where Georgia Hubley takes the lead vocal, the songs have a more melancholy quality, like a tuneful Nico. ‘Shades Of Blue’ is a moody Woodstock with tambourine and acoustic strings. ‘Polynesia’ is a sweet escape to somewhere even warmer and hazier than the rest of the album suggests. ‘She May, She Might’ equally has shades of The Velvet Underground with its backward sample and submerged male vocal.
This is a genuinely lovely album, full of warmth and dreaminess, perfect for the coldest week in years. Where it doesn’t quite work are those tracks which are a little overlong. The clue to these is the false ending or the tracks which finish with a jarring fuzz of feedback such as ‘Forever’, a crooning Beach Boys number or the lengthy outro on ‘Here You Are’. The songs are strong enough without it.
There might well be a riot going on but advice from Yo La Tengo is to sit back, reflect and create.
There’s A Riot Going On is released through Matador on 16th March 2018.