It’s encouraging that nearly four decades into one of the most impressive careers in indie rock, Yo La Tengo are still finding new ways of doing things. On 2018’s There’s A Riot Going On, the band upended their usual process of writing material and then re-creating it in the studio by setting up recording gear in their rehearsal space and capturing their music in a freer and more spontaneous manner. For that album, YLT handed the tracks over to John McEntire (of Tortoise and the Sea and Cake) for mixing, but 2023’s This Stupid World sees them cutting out the last middleman in their process – this time, the band mixed the tracks themselves, and for the first time they’ve made an album with essentially no outside input.
Yo La Tengo have been doing what they do long enough that they know and trust their process, and This Stupid World doesn’t seem radically different from their work of the last 10 or 15 years. That said, this music feels warmer and more emotionally satisfying than anything YLT have given us since 2009’s Popular Songs. Many of these tracks grew out of jams, and the notion of “first thought, best thought” clearly works for this group (which may give us cause to reassess the conventional wisdom about the phrase “jam band”).
The cool, languid beauty of “Miles Away,” the easy but implacable groove of “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” the bittersweet yearning of “Aselestine,” the easygoing self-depreciation of “Apology Letter,” and the clouds of noise in the title cut each beautifully represent one of the many sides of YLT’s sonic personality, and the work sounds at once confident and engaged with the possibilities of chance. This Stupid World never sounds sloppy even as this music is happening in the moment, and the interplay between Ira Kaplan’s skronky guitar, James McNew’s rock-solid bass, and Georgia Hubley’s imaginative drumming (as well as their use of occasional electronic washes) remains a marvel, a familiar formula that produces fresh, intriguing results.
There’s s Riot Going On was created in a time of strife and uncertainty for a great many people, and sometimes it sounded like it. This Stupid World doesn’t pretend all is roses again, but it finds a lot more room for joy and engaging with your muse. If the world is still stupid outside of Yo La Tengo’s headquarters, inside they’re making worthy art to share with us, and we can all be grateful for that.