When you’re going out in your early 20s, you master a kind of magnified stage whisper; counterintuitively, it’s the one approach that allows you to be heard underneath the noise at chaotic house parties and loud rock shows. There’s an intimacy to mumble-shouting into your buddy’s ear in a crowded space, a kind that’s analogous to the claustrophobic closeness of the squalling distorto-jams and loopy, fuzz-rock nerdgasms that defined Yo La Tengo’s defining early-ish work. And though the college-rock icons have toned things down over the plast decade, their pillowy-soft songs have lacked the breath-on-your-neck immediacy of, say, “Deeper Into Movies,” from 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Almost 30 years into Yo La Tengo’s existence, they’ve made a glorious return to form with Fade. There’s no pyro here, and no overdriven amps. Rather, it’s a collection of winsomely melodic songs with crystalline textures coaxed into place by careful producer John McEntire, who ensures that the sonic frills don’t shift focus from Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s gentle vocals and guileless lyrics. “Caught up in motion, swirling around / Sometimes you’re standing still on uneven ground,” Hubley murmurs on “Cornelia and Jane,” as ropes of burnished brass wrap around a heartbeat of a bassline. The sweet song of devotion “I’ll Be Around” is a fingerpicked reverie that wouldn’t be out of place on a Fairport Convention album. There’s still noise amidst the placidness, but the softly wiggy bits feel intentional, informed by years of experience and experiments. Fade doesn’t prompt stage whispers; instead, it’s the grown-up, inside-out equivalent: A beauty of a rock album that (hopefully) won’t wake the baby.
Playlist picks “Cornelia and Jane,” “Ohm,” “I’ll Be Around”