The thing about late-career resurgences is that bands have to stick around long enough to see them happen. Yo La Tengo have been kept afloat over more than three decades together by a dedicated cult fanbase, and there’s plenty of debate among that faction to be had over the merits of the New Jersey trio’s fourteen studio albums to date. To most casual observers, though, the group probably peaked in the late nineties, with standout LP ‘I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One’ in 1997 and its follow-up, ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out’, three years later. Then again, that those two were Yo La Tengo’s eighth and ninth records respectively is testament to their status as indie rock slow-burners.
When they put out ‘Fade’ in 2013, it was near-unanimously received as both a return to form and a standout in their storied back catalogue. They’ve not rushed this follow-up, with 2015’s ‘Stuff Like That There’ primarily a collection of covers and reworks. It shows, too, at least on the face of it; ‘There’s a Riot Going On’ is a carefully crafted and delightfully unhurried listen, but as languid as the tempo can feel and as melodic and carefree as the guitars and electronics often sound, their decision to borrow the album’s title from Sly and the Family Stone’s stormy 1971 state of the union address was not one made with tongue in cheek. Instead, repeat listens reveal that beneath the dainty instrumentation and breezy arrangements, Yo La Tengo are not immune to the darkness enveloping the world. Quite the opposite, with the ambient likes of ‘Dream Dream Away’ and ‘Shortwave’ cases in point. Gradually, you realise that the airy tranquility of the band’s own ‘There’s a Riot Going On’ was born of an urgent desire to redress the balance - to meet pain and suffering with light and love. The results are quietly overwhelming.