Now, I had an unfinished scribble of a text regarding this one really popular Low album from the 90s but I wasn’t moved enough to bother completing it. Fortunately, I have another supposedly quintessential indie band whose antics are just as boring: Yo La Tengo, and this time they have a much newer album than that middlish fuzzball Hey What from the minds of Low, and even more so is that this recent delivery from indie-rock royalty is just the littlest bit more uninteresting in concept and in execution. They fed their equation a few droplets of the sound sibling of the kosmische musik of old, the noise-pop pillow parties of significantly less old, and the infinitely regenerating arithmetic of post-rock. Through attempting to rekindle them back into the infantile phase, it instead has very few similarities from a bad botox job.
We begin with a distant transmission of salutations from Sinatra Drive Breakdown, where the drums sound so clean compared to the straightjacketed rabid guitar that I struggle to crack up from it. It fades into an underlying malaise as a close harmony attempts a dreamy contrast, though providing very little for equally little time as the noisy and unstable guitar attempts breaking free from this theoretical straightjacket, though sounding more like a stuttering choke artist before it really gets into shape and starts carving a proper river of jagged Velvet texture, and then easing back into the foreground for the vocals to continue their snubbing. The melody is decently reminiscent of Neu!, though the emulation can only help so much (as great of a band Neu! was). I bet you that if the guitar had the floor in place of the second vocal passage and went a little bit further into its head, the song would qualify as generally quite good. There’s a dominant emptiness in the air here, a dormant ventilation where feelings used to be. Evidence of composition once human has since been replaced by worn and torn mannequins, not even entertaining enough to shuffle a little bit in the small moment you blink. A cold science dominates previously the conceived the psychologically fascinating magic of krautrock, which is not a bad idea when the execution is as moving as still air.
Some noise-pop that adores following the archetypal arithmetic of the genre (with neo-psych, of course there would be that) best describes Fallout, where any attempts at textural flourishes feel often confused and budged into the center of the composition without a clue as to how make its place in the structure organic, let alone the soundscape itself. It’s a trick that’s nothing new: letting there be so much that it amounts to as little as possible within emotional reaction or compositional decency. The vocals have little purpose other than seeking to break up the monotony with another form of monotony as if it’s an ideological conflict set to superficial slacker-rock. There’s nothing particularly offensive or truly irritating about what is going on, other than the fact that the lack of that leads to an even more forgettable listening experience than the first time I heard this thing. Let’s see Tonight’s Episode.
The start showed an immense amount of improvement in terms of immersing the listener upon just the first few seconds, although that is before the drums and bass waddle in. The drone is easily the most interesting thing about this song, it’s a shame it’s wrapped and delivered as the squeeze to a jumping poppy festival of nonsense that occasionally is met with an awkwardly out-of-place tweedling guitar that lasts around thirty seconds more than the duration it should have existed for. That is, before it is then integrated into the song as a mainstay with some other percussion. Imagine you find a really marvelous and, oddly enough, profound guitar drone piece that just inhabits your ears as you stare in static wonder, like you’re watching a wall where a paint rendered invisible to your inability to comprehend it is supposed to slowly trickle down whilst attempting to dry. So the wall remains there, a fascinating pattern on it that keeps you almost hypnotized in looking straight towards it – knowing a paint is there that is meant to overlap the wall with something entirely different and entirely beyond you. You listen to something like that before an annoying kid walks in and starts playing with a drum app he found on his tablet whilst singing the ABC’s. Immersion broken, somebody probably just started painting a very frustratingly comprehensible collage of black spits, spots and splotches onto the wall and now you have to watch that attempt to dry instead. I’ve dwelled that much on a drone in an indie song.
Aselestine knows to distance itself from such walls in order to keep its identity unfettered. The name of the game is ethereality instead of fuzzy transmissions, and its ability to remain true to itself, its timbres, and its behaviour results in what is definitely one of the foundational works on this album. Being a drop of dreamboat folk-rock in a sea of noise-pop brigading seems like second nature, one that continues to be expounded upon proficiently for as long as the vocals remain mellowing and beautiful (though in the realm of a semi-conscious state rather than a technical marvel). The main flaw is that it does feel just the littlest bit boring, but comparing that littlest bit to the defining character trait that being boring tends to be to a lot of the songs here, that borders on being a virtue in this world that Yo La Tengo has moulded.
Oddly enough, there was another drop in this sea almost similar to Aselestine before it got slowly muddled into the rest of the sea. This drop is named Until It Happens, a rhythmically confused slab of illusory jargon that tends to tumble and teeter rather than shuffle in proper coordination. The oncoming headlights of death were likely supposed to be a highlight in this song’s theming, though the whimsy bell is the only borderline-profound evidence of such a thing. Here we’ve got weak, unflattering vocals that tries to espouse this staring contest with our famed reaper before a decently less interesting and quickly intensifying drone cuts the song short. I think the drones in this album have warranted gratitude. There was likely something reminiscent of folk here before it began melding into the other plastic post-rock pseudo-pandemoniums that populate this river. Then we have a song titled Apology Letter. D’awww, you guys.
This one is likely the true opposite to Aselestine in the realms of being interesting, most likely over any other song on this album. I just sat here, and I let it play. What have I got to say for it? Well, I suppose it’s close to nothing. What am I supposed to say, the drums sound okay and that’s it? The guitar work is uninteresting, the vocals are uninteresting, the structure is a plodding bore, everything here is engineered to be the biggest tease possible in an indie-rock piece: all the interesting stuff completely out of sight in favour of empty bullshit. Brain Capers, outside of the noisy fanfare of guitars and electronica having been fed anaesthetics, has little to provide except for a generally okay tube simulation of tornado winds captured in the form of noisy fodder. I can imagine this having been documented within 1993, although I don’t think the production of that time would help much either. I hope you now realize given the amount of writing I’ve provided these last few songs that any possible charm of the album is being stretched and worn as thin as the strings that compose our universe.
Now it’s time for the two generally long pieces that close out the album: the title track This Stupid World, and Miles Away. Exposing ourselves to the former reveals another utterly moving series of interlaying drones of fuzz and feedback, and with seemingly no immersion-bastardizing drumming in sight other than some pulsating ringing percussion that only add to the texture in a ritualistic fashion befitting only for the kin of free-folk and more abstract krautrock. The vocals aren’t a terrible nor offensive diversion, but seem to just barely do their job. In fact, an argument could be made that the vocals actually benefit the song (it doesn’t hurt that they arrive back in the exact moment the fuzzing starts to wear out its welcome). If I were to get a bucket to sample one specific branch of the previously mentioned stream, it’d be this song. Shit, it’s a good noisy drone piece, at least in the bounds of rock composition.
Miles Away has likely the best drums on the album, as well as the best use of reverberation. The vocals do occasionally feel a bit out of time with the rest of the song (particularly the na-na-na recitations) but it may as well provide the most significant feeling of being submerged within the debatably non-existent purgatory state where the album’s utmost etherealities locate their muses. The ambience is potent and absolutely decorated with contemplation as if it’s a hoarded luxury, though that is no beacon of complaint. The trembling of the electronic percussion only allows a more organic stumble into this nothingness, issuing a quivering state larger than us, maybe like the turbulence of a commercial airliner. It’s an absolute delight that an album as previously boorish and filled with a pestilent drought from substance like this has two good ending songs. Sometimes even mediocrity can end on a high note.
I’ve got one more thing to say regarding noisy or dreamy pop: ethereality doesn’t come artistically cheap. You gotta give the listener a reason to want to fall asleep or be carried away instead of just expecting them to, otherwise you have an awkward state of listening limbo where no parties benefit and nothing is gained on an artistic or emotional level. If this album were to be reduced only to an EP of just these two finishing pieces, then I figure the score would catapult by 1.5 or something around that perimeter.
Trajectory past the first listen: very slightly positive though not without acknowledgement of emptiness.
Written 1:05 PM - 3:04 PM, 7/31/2023.