Yo La Tengo’s latest record is titled There’s A Riot Going On — but its music and tone suggest otherwise. It more resemble a peaceful protest.
The band’s 15th studio album recalls Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 record There’s A Riot Goin’ On, which was composed and recorded principally by Sly Stone in bed while constantly under the influence of drugs.
Stone’s album marked a departure from the optimistic funk of the 1960s and adopted a darker and more politically charged approach. While Stone only hints at political stances on the record, the tone of There’s A Riot Goin’ On mirrors the social unrest stirred up by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.
Likewise, Yo La Tengo do not comment directly on the political and social state of the world on There’s A Riot Going On, but attempt to create a photograph that captures the times. Since the 2016 election, many artists have created works that fit into the Trump era and subsequent protests such as The Women’s March last year and The March for Our Lives that took place last weekend.
There’s A Riot Going On can be categorized with recent socially conscious albums such as Fleet Foxes’ Crack-Up, LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream and Jim James’ Tribute to 2. But Yo La Tengo, stylistically mature after decades of work, remain the most reserved and meditative they have ever been throughout the new album’s one hour and three minute runtime.
Yo La Tengo’s musical history of dissonant guitar solos, shoegazing jams and blaring organ seem like the perfect formula for There’s A Riot Going On, but all are absent. Instead, in an ironic twist, the band includes several dazzling ambient tracks (“Shortwave,” “Dream Dream Away”), a few light pop tunes (“Shades of Blue,” “Ashes”) and borderline bossa nova songs (“Let’s Do It Wrong,” “Esportes Casual”).
As on past albums, the three members of the band share vocal responsibility with Georgia Hubley delivering one of her best vocal performances, upstaging Ira Kaplan and James McNew on her lead tracks. Yet, nearly all the songs embody the mantra-like repetition of Animal Collective.
Throughout the record, phrases are repeated over gentle instrumentals, as if to cement them in the listener’s mind with importance. Some of the most memorable include “She may/ She might,” “Whenever I see them/ There are shades of blue,” and “Blow on the fire/ Ashes burn away.”
The soundscape/cinematic work on “Dream Dream Away,” “Shortwave” and “Above the Sound” — the last of which has a killer bass groove — provide a nice stretch of album that helps to dissociate the listener from the supposed riot happening outside. The album as a whole feels like more of a late 2010s distraction from the world than a statement on it. Despite the bands leftist political bent, the three members seem more interested in reflecting the zeitgeist for future generations than adding any more commentary to it, much like Sly Stone’s original.
With Twitter, cable news, radicals and reactionaries causing a nonstop social, political and media spectacle, Yo La Tengo decides instead to shut the blinds and bliss out to the positives aspects of the last few years in their newest spacey and indie pop-centric collection of songs.
There’s A Riot Going On is easily one of the most solid records from a band who remind us not to get swept up in the culturally whirlwind unfurling around us. Chill out and enjoy life once in awhile and don’t always get baited by the trolls.
Luke Furman is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What do you think? Let Luke know by tweeting him @LukeFurmanLog or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.