One of my favourite memories surrounding an album involves the end of a spell in Amsterdam. After a lengthy evening-that-turned-into-morning wander through the city, one of our group found himself on the wrong side of the night's ingestions. He got spontaneously and spectacularly sick outside a bar. He was one of the youngest members of our group, a really sweet kid who just kind of got a little carried away—now green in both metaphorical senses of the word.
We had a long ride ahead of us, so we carefully helped him back to his feet and loaded him into our van. Though it was very early in the morning, no one was especially tired and this poor kid was just kind of dazed—catatonic, but fully conscious. We started driving and put on a record. It was already a favourite of myself and a friend of mine, but the kid hadn't heard it yet. "You'll love it," we assured him. "It'll help you feel better."
Over the next hour plus, no one said anything. As the Netherlands spread its low-lying beauty out before our eyes and the first spark of morning was lit, we just sat and listened—still, but fully attenuated to every note. The look on the kid's face gently moved from pained to a placid awe. As the record ended, he kind of softly managed a stunned, "That was awesome." Then he fell asleep cured, having been just a little changed by what he had heard.
The record was Yo La Tengo's eighth, I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, still one of my absolute favourite albums to this day. Listening to Fade, now the Hoboken, N.J. trio's thirteenth record, I was reminded of the restorative moment Heart Beating brought to the virgin ears of this kid and what it said about Yo La Tengo's music in general.
You can have a great experience with any number of albums under any number of situations. It can be the first time you hear it, or the hundredth. But I believe what made Yo La Tengo the ideal balm for that moment is the warming, welcoming nature of the music they make. For no matter what mood they find themselves in—and over their career, they've covered everything from 10-minute feedback freakouts to fuzzy pop nuggets and twilight ballads—there's an open-armedness to their songs. Yo La Tengo's music does not judge you on any level. It does not make demands upon your social standing or even musical knowledge. You can pick upon the many hidden references and homages laid throughout the seemingly endless catalogue of these highly erudite students of music. Or you can just as easily enjoy them as though each idea, each chord change, each expression never existed before they recorded it.
They are a band for the most ardent and obnoxious of music geeks, yet they are one of the first bands of such an ilk that I would recommend to a person who only bought their music at Wal-Mart. In this respect, it almost doesn't matter how great Fade is. It's yet another album by one of the most quietly enduring bands of their age. Its worth has been made by decades of already great music. It is an event.
However, it is a great album, and is one that finds the band in a moment where their warm, welcoming qualities are at a most autumnal, late-age bloom. Like many of their best records, you'll love it. It'll help you feel better.