MUSIC REVIEWS: Yo La Tengo’s ‘Fade,’ Christopher Owens’ ‘Lysandre’

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Fade

Yo La Tengo

Matador Records

★★★

Now entering their third decade together, Yo La Tengo have a mellowed a bit with age, their rough edges and genre-jumping tendencies replaced by a sound that’s hazy and half-whispered. They keep things understated on their 13th album, “Fade,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a forgotten collection of summertime home movies.

Cover art for Christopher Owens' "Lysander"

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Cover art for Christopher Owens’ “Lysander” more >

Vocals drift into the ether, guitars jangle softly, and drums plod ahead with leisurely determination, like clouds parting for a sun that never fully appears. Every song on “Fade” is bathed in that sort of half-light, which adds a warm wash to everything it touches.

Songs like “Two Trains” seem to move in gorgeous slow-motion. It can be hard to make out the actual lyrics, but it’s easy to attach your own images to these tunes: children running through sprinklers, green grass growing in humid air, the muffled laughter of someone’s backyard party echoing across the neighborhood. A tree spreads its limbs on the album’s cover, as if to reinforce the summertime ambiance.

“Fade” turns over a new leaf, too, pairing Yo La Tengo with a new producer — Chicago’s John McEntire — for the first time in nearly 20 years. Mr. McEntire doesn’t disturb the band’s sleepy-eyed state, but he does push it in interesting directions, adding some elegant strings to “Is That Enough” and anchoring the album’s opener, “Ohm,” with the rhythmic sounds of a tabla drum.

The album wraps up with “Before We Run,” a medium-paced swirl of brass, repetitive percussion and murmured melodies. The song nearly fades out at the halfway mark before renewing itself for another three minutes, which are dominated by violins and a horn section. This is Yo La Tengo’s version of a grand finale, proof that you don’t need to break a sweat to keep an audience entertained.

 

Lysandre

Christopher Owens

Fat Possum Records

★★

After logging five years as frontman of the San Francisco-based band Girls, Christopher Owens strikes out on his own with “Lysandre,” a solo album rooted in flower child pop music and — believe it or not — Renaissance folk songs.

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