Yo La Tengo - There’s A Riot Going On Album Review

Story posted March 21, 2018 in Arts & Entertainment by Jenna Minnig.

As one of the earliest pioneers of indie rock, it is hard for fans to know how Yo La Tengo will continue to craft something different from all of their previous works. In this regard, there’s good news and bad news to the band’s latest release There’s A Riot Going On. The good news is that Yo La Tengo hasn’t strayed very far from their soothing, melodious roots. But the bad news is this as well. Although this album offers new interpretations of their usual style, there is no overarching change from the sound Yo La Tengo has composed their music in for years. There’s A Riot Going On is anchored in an interesting concept where each of the tracks relates to one another in a well-sequenced track listing, but even this attention to detail fails to make the record stand out from the rest of Yo La Tengo’s discography.

The fifteenth release from the trio takes its name from Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 release There’s A Riot Going On. Through fifteen tracks, the band explores a range of emotions and sounds. Songs like “For You Too” and “What Chance Have I Got” will take early listeners back to the band’s roots. Although a large portion sounds like classic Yo La Tengo, this album also provides fresh experimentation into an exceptional amount of instrumental songs. “Shortwave” is a track that may be confusing upon first listen (and perhaps even second and third listen). After sitting with the quiet song for a while, listeners can come to the realization that this it intends to explore the senses one feels when listening to music. The soothing, wavelike sound of the atmosphere and background noises join together to form a beautiful tune that fits almost perfectly in the middle of the album.

Yo La Tengo’s choice to make this a sequence-dependent record is the main reason the album still captures a sense of freshness in the band's style, even if it is more of an aesthetic quality than a substantive one. Just when listeners might tire of hearing lead vocalist, Ira Kaplan, sing in a voice filled with strain and melancholy, they are thrown for a loop with instrumental tracks like “Esportes Casual.” This song, which could be mistaken for upbeat elevator music, fades impeccably into “Forever,” another song that is dominated by Kaplan’s calming voice. These short breaks give fans the opportunity to reflect on the music and understand the feelings the musicians felt during the recording process.  

For listeners who are just getting into Yo La Tengo, this album would most likely not be the place to begin. Due to its long and at times dragging runtime, it is hard to understand the music until understanding where the band is coming from. Yo La Tengo isn’t here to make catchy music, instead here to make music that sits comfortably on the less melodically focused side of indie rock. And the instrumental tracks on this record achieve just that. However, the replay value of this album is quite low, and probably lower for first-time listeners due to its length. On There’s A Riot Going On, Yo La Tengo drops a release that will still find praise from their fans for their continued ability to craft a unique sound with each song. But for general fans of indie rock, it's a record that’s doing too little too late in this band’s long career to warrant outside admiration.

Rating: 7/10


Jenna Minnig is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email at jkm5756@psu.edu.