There are a wealth of adjectives you could use to describe indie rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo. Dedicated. Adventurous. Prolific. Ethereal. Intense, and so on. But for all of the many, generous descriptors, the most apt is probably consistent. For more than three decades, the New Jersey triumvirate of guitarist Ira Kaplan, his wife, the drummer Georgia Kaplan, and bassist James McNew have maintained a workmanlike posture, gamely putting out new and fantastic creations every few years or so. Their collection of records is at once towering in its musical breadth and quality, while also remaining wholly inviting to new fans and casual observers alike.
Their latest album, There’s A Riot Going On, sits quite comfortably next to some of their greatest, earlier achievements, like 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and their breakthrough 1993 release Painful. On a sonic level, Riot is breathy and mysterious, brimming with unconventional sounds and textures. Pianos clash against guitars. Cymbals clang against bass riffs. Vocal melodies blend together and split off in totally different and opposing directions. As much as an album can be a mood, There’s A Riot Going On is a feeling and atmosphere all its own. Dark and light; infinite and cloistered.
As its title denotes — the similarity between this record and the acclaimed Sly Stone masterpiece There’s A Riot Goin’ On is purposeful — it’s also political document, even if the politics within are hard to discern. For Ira Kaplan, that’s the entire point. “I’ve quoted this before, but the band The Scene Is Now have a song where kind of what I’ve always felt was the key lyric is, “There’s politics in every song,” and then they start singing, ‘La la la la la,'” he said by phone. “You know, obviously that’s a political statement to sing, “La la la.” As much as I tried to get him to elaborate, he insists that it’s up to you, the listener, to discover for yourself the statement Yo La Tengo is hoping to convey.
I recently spoke to Kaplan about Yo La Tengo’s immersive new album, and how the band has evolved and grown over the last 30 years.