Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On


Yo La Tengo released their fifteenth studio album earlier this month, titled There’s a Riot Going On. The indie rock band has consistently been creating music since 1984, with a large discography consisting of studio albums, compilation albums, EPs, collaborative albums, film scores, singles, and covers. Ira Kaplan (guitar) and Georgia Hubley (drums) formed the band in Hoboken, collaborating frequently with other artists and adding bassist James McNew in 1991. 

Spanning over thirty years, Yo La Tengo has preserved their distinct color in the world extremely well. Perhaps this is because of their broad body of work, which covers many styles, from folk to punk rock to shoegazing. According to the members of the group, much of their musical process consists of experimentation and improvisation.

Yo La Tengo has an aesthetic that makes their music immediately recognizable to familiar ears. The voice of Ira Kaplan has often been compared to Lou Reed’shalf sung, half spoken, sometimes whispered. Both Kaplan and Hubley sing softly, weaving through ambient slide-guitar harmonies and gentle acoustic riffs. Although their set-up seems simple, the intricacies of their music are thrilling and breathtaking. Their music is timeless, unaffected by trends but constantly shifting and expanding outwards. They are masters of creating emotions and colors; their music engulfs its listener. 

Their new album is no different. It feels like a product of the current world’s turbulence, but There’s a Riot Going On is calmer than its title suggests. It provides comfort. In many of the songs, the voices and lyrics are almost secondary to the atmosphere that the music creates. Small phrases linger as the music takes up space. 

There’s a Riot Going On starts with a heavy hum... and a march approaches.  The album brings spring to mind. The melody rises and falls. The bass hums. The drum beats out a light step and the guitar fills in the blanks. There are bells in the distance. The music swells from light and optimistic to a heavier calm. In the last song, "Here You Are," over tumbling, frantic music, Yo La Tengo chants, We are out of words, We’re out of time, Believe the worst. 

Take it as you will, but There’s a Riot Going On, and Yo La Tengo’s music is a beautiful response.   

By Hannah Yang

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