At album number 13, Yo La Tengo are an institution unto themselves, having perfected their craft of slow-burning, unassumingly insular indie rock in incremental baby steps since their formation in 1984. Almost three decades of building a language of wistfully melodic guitar rock without becoming redundant is no small feat, and Fade rises to the unique challenge by striking a middle ground between new territory and recalling YLT's finest hours. Fade is the first album for the band not recorded with producer Roger Moutenot, who had worked with the group on everything they put to tape since their 1993 breakthrough, Painful. The ten songs here were recorded instead with Chicago scene veteran John McEntire (Tortoise, Sea and Cake, Gastr del Sol, etc.) at his Soma studios, and while his influence on the album isn't overwhelming, there are touches of his affinity for orchestration, such as the gleaming strings and horn arrangements on album closer "Before We Run" and the distant trombone on "Cornelia and Jane." Mostly, regardless of production, Fade comes across as almost self-referential before it recalls other reference points, coming closest to the sound and overall feel of their 1997 masterpiece, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. The whispery vocals and bed of guitar textures on "Stupid Things" and the extended percussive jamming of "Ohm" definitely seem informed by territory the band was exploring around that era, though the album on a whole lacks any of the spiky rockers that broke up the lush softness on ICHTHBAO. The gentle and romantic wash of sounds that characterizes much of Fade is more in keeping with the band's chilled-out 2003 album Summer Sun, with graceful exploration of different sounds all reined in before they spin into distortion or clamor. Even the slinky groove and weird wah-wah tones of "Well You Better" are subdued, offering a relatively mellow peak in energy. The album's lazy, sunshiny demeanor borders on sleepy at times, but those listening closely will pick up on the subtle shifts in instrumentation and colorful production shifts that the band has grown to excel at over the years. The fingerpicked acoustic guitar and harmonium drones of "I'll Be Around" fade into the spaced-out drum machine pulse of "Two Trains" without spectacle, and the entire album blends in a similar, pleasant way. This fluidity and cohesion is what drives the songs on Fade to stand stronger as a unified mood, and one that grows more satisfying with repeat listens. By this point, Yo La Tengo have developed not just a style, but a voice of their own so distinct that the deeper the details go determines how strong the album can be. Fade is rich with details and grows richer the closer one looks.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas