Yo La Tengo’s “Fallout” and the Undulating Emotions of Time


Yo La Tengo’s “This Stupid World,” is set to be released this February. (Courtesy of Instagram)

I had the unforgettable experience of seeing Yo La Tengo perform live for Central Park’s SummerStage last fall, an event that felt more like a backyard music session than a large-scale outdoor concert. Come to the end of their set, frontman Ira Kaplan brought his mother onstage to perform an endearing rendition of one of their most popular songs, “My Little Corner of the World.” His fellow bandmates, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, adorned her vocals with glittering showers of piano and guitar. The crowd looked on with clasped hands, swaying along with undulating sound waves that floated up and dispersed into the October air. With graceful artistry, Yo La Tengo bottles up this very feeling and imbues it into hushed vocals and noise-rock to create a sound that is deeply eclectic, cathartic and melodic. 

“Fallout,” the latest single from an upcoming album “This Stupid World,” bears familiar thematic fruits of their richly developed discography. Over propellant guitar chords and blurred bass, Kaplan laments the present while pleading to revisit the past and “fallout” of time. The rhythmic guitar line begins to resemble a beating heart as the song progresses, effectively creating a paradoxical sense of comfort and uncertainty. Similarly, the lyrics suggest both a desire for catharsis and escape from anxieties of the ever-looming “now.” Though plaintive in his words, Kaplan sings rather pragmatically: “I won’t tell you what it’s gonna be/I don’t have what you want from me/I want to fall out of time.” 

Simultaneously fuzzy and pulsing, Yo La Tengo dances along the threshold of many genres to create an independent fusion of drone pop and indie rock. While some crave plasticity and experimentation in new releases, there is something beautifully seamless about the predictability of “Fallout” — it is exactly what one would expect and hope for in a Yo La Tengo single. Existing in the center of their musical sweet spot, the song captures a fleeting thought, threading it through an elongated guitar lick and repetitively poetic background vocals.  

Channeling the understated melodicism of The Velvet Underground and the suburban sweetness of the Silver Jews’ lyricism, Yo La Tengo exhibits various highlights from their broad genre while maintaining an irresistible sense of independence. As I eagerly anticipate the release of their 16th studio album in February, I plan to listen to “Fallout” as incessantly as I did “Nowhere Near” last autumn. Just as their sound is an amalgamation of inspirations, this single is an amalgamation of rhythmic feelings: the wind brushing my face as I drive through my hometown backroads, the feeling of my father’s heartbeat as we embrace before a flight back to New York, the bellowing roar of the subway as two trains pass by one another. Existing over a string of time, these moments are easily overlooked if you don’t pay attention. The subtle beauty of Yo La Tengo shares the same delicacy, and you might miss it if you fail to listen closely enough.