This feeling of resignation powers much of This Stupid World, no matter how lively the bulk of its songs may sound. “Every day, it hurts to look,” Kaplan sings early into “Fallout,” one of their most effortlessly magnetic songs ever. “I’d turn away if only I could.” The trouble is everywhere, as inescapable as polluted air. And it’s not just outside: Kaplan laments his inability to overcome his ego during the wonderfully bittersweet “Apology Letter.” Irreparable destruction and inevitable death linger as miasmas, like when grief catches Hubley by surprise on TV during her lovely country sigh, “Aselestine.” Kaplan advocates for a sort of Swedish death cleaning of the mind above the warped canter of “Until It Happens,” a cautionary tale for those of us who sometimes want to believe bad things are only other people’s problems.
Even the McNew-led “Tonight’s Episode” playfully inveighs against a faddish world of self-help gurus and know-it-all advisers. Its chants of “guacamole” and games played with a yo-yo might feel like doggerel, but he’s just doing what he can to hold it together. “No need to cast the I Ching,” he sings like he’s sharing his own secret advice, noise ripping like a gale behind him. “Let the night astound/I don’t have to think.” If Yo La Tengo were on the edge when they cut Amnesia, the last three years have caused them to slip over its lip. Maybe the abyss isn’t yet in plain view, but reports from its depths are coming up more quickly now.
Despite all the fretting, This Stupid World exudes a loveable lightness, the byproduct of a band rooted in a triangle of trust and camaraderie since McNew joined 30 years ago. Catch, for instance, Hubley’s near-hidden giggle as the amplifiers whirr to life at the start of “Aselestine.” The sadness is easier when you’ve got friends around, it seems to say. You can hear that solidarity in “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” too, as Hubley and McNew stick with the rhythm while Kaplan wrestles through that amplifier turmoil. When he’s ready to sing, they lock back into shared softness.
The temptation to brand This Stupid World with a superlative or triumphant tagline is strong—Yo La Tengo’s best album in at least a decade (true), their most consistently compelling rock songs in years (ditto), a new triumph of indie rock’s old guard (facts). But such reductive critical capstones feel wrong for the steadfast march of Yo La Tengo, a band that’s been so indispensable for so long because they love making music together exactly how and when they want. Releasing a new album every two years or so for almost as long as the internet has existed, they have never indulged the illusion of scarcity by disappearing for a while, only to climb aboard the comeback circuit.
This Stupid World is just a particularly timely chapter in the modest saga of indie rock’s most unassuming institution. Its songs capture not only the darkness so many of us feel with each waking day but also the impulse to keep waking, to keep going. “This stupid world, it’s killing me,” the trio finally offers as one on the title track, a mighty shoegaze wonder where distortion and feedback thread together like a warm blanket. “This stupid world, it’s all we have.” It’s a mantra shared among pals holding each other up, now extended to the world beyond their cozy Hoboken studio. They know how this thing ends, and they play on anyway.
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