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Yo La Tengo - There's A Riot Going On (Album Review)

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 Written by Jacob Brookman

Since they shuffled onto the stage over 30 years ago, New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo have established themselves as one of the most enduring lo-fi bands on the east coast, creating a catalogue of distinctive shoegaze that has impressed with its subtle diversity.

Their new album, ‘There’s a Riot Going On’ is titled with a seemingly direct reference to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 album of the same name. There the similarities stop. Instead of pulsating political funk, here we are plugged into stoner noise-rock. It may well be political, but of the more horizontal kind.

The songs here are frequently awful, and the playing sloppy. This is music that sounds like it is being delivered by amateurs, and while such a primitivist approach may be compelling when given the spitting, swearing, sexual energy of a punk band, in the hands of shoegaze practitioners it can be nauseating.

This feeling peaks in the middle of the album, when we are treated to a five minute ambient soundscape called Shortwave. It overstays its welcome by about four minutes.

The composition is seemingly led by a bandleader who is more interested in effects pedals than melodies. How do you screw up a soundscape, anyway?

The track that follows it, Above the Sound, is a little more interesting. It manages a rumbling melody amid overspilling percussion. It edges towards a Tom Waits sound, but lacks the unchecked lunacy of that singer. The shambolic musicianship is clearly by design, but if you haven't the taste for it you're in for a rough ride.

Shoegaze can be good. The work of Sparklehorse and Grandaddy has demonstrated the power and intelligence of introverted musicians. But ‘There’s a Riot Going On’ is not a good album. It combines an infuriating level of messiness with surprisingly frequent failures of imagination.  

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