Yo La Tengo

This Stupid World review | Yo La Tengo carve their own brand of optimism amid despair

After 16 albums and nearly 40 years as indie rock’s depressive cult heroes, you may think Yo La Tengo would be running out of things to say and ways to surprise. But on their 17th LP This Stupid World – their first of wholly original material since 2018’s There’s a Riot Going On – there’s a living urgency in the trio’s meditative assortment of reflective odes to time and past and all that holds.


With a diehard following to match The Grateful Dead and an eclecticism that has seen them dabble in noise rock, soul and straight-up country, Yo La Tengo operate in a unique sphere of having existed forever without conjuring up much commercial success. That’s unlikely to change with This Stupid World, which is more downbeat and lashed throughout, with reminders of our fragile mortality than dreamy early 2000s highpoint And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

This Stupid World

Opener ‘Sinatra Drive Breakdown’ – as epic as anything the band have ever done – is a breezy jam that whirls into violence across its seven-minute runtime as it hums with rhythmic guitars that take the band into the abyss over lyrics such as, “I see clearly how it ends / I see the moon rise as the sun descends” and “I see my arms flail / I see the night alone”. The clash between dreamy harmonising and ragged guitar is startling, moving and dramatic.

Yo La Tengo, as they’ve always done, takes the apocalyptic and turns it into something beautiful, almost serene. ‘Until it Happens’ is a tense acoustic number that builds on the doom and gloom, looking death in the eye and refusing to blink. With lyrics like “Prepare to die, prepare yourself while there’s still time”, it’s nihilism as blunt as a sledgehammer, but there’s something subtly affecting about a band that is so steadfast in wanting to wrestle with the growing spectre of death.

‘Tonight’s Episode’ is more upbeat, diving into layered psychedelia, even flirting with pop, and sung by bassist James McNew. The song’s bassline has an old-school pop bounce and absurdist lyrics about guacamole. While it’s groovier than others on This Stupid World, it’s still tinged with despair through a contemplative acoustic guitar and cutting lyrics like, “Don’t bring me down with your advice / I’ve got my own plan”. It’s wholly idiosyncratic and totally Yo La Tengo.

They save the best for last with ‘Miles Away’, which embraces the drum machine and feels endless in its intensity. Sung by drummer Georgia Hubley, it’s the album’s longest song and finds grace in its minimalism. “So many signs / I must be blind / How few of them I see, she sings in a cathartic manner. This Stupid World is probably their most straightforward album in several years and, not coincidentally, their most compelling as it cuts through the chaos of the 21st century.

The band have always had a way of elevating sad guy tropes beyond the self-indulgent and mopey. The howls of despair have a meaning greater than the solipsistic; there’s an honest levity there, too, that can only come from a tight band camaraderie 30 years in the making. The music feels effortless, easy and yet riveting. There’s still a place for Yo La Tengo in this stupid world.

Despite the explicit darkness, as laid bare on the album’s title track, when they sing, “This stupid world, it’s killing me”, the band ramble on, as prolific as ever – and there’s an optimism in that. The same optimism that wakes you daily to go about a daily life, with all its ups and downs.

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