Review Summary: Novocained muzak for the middle-aged Gen-X'er..
Somewhere in my early 20’s, when I’d been living away for close to 7 years, my folks moved out of downtown Montreal to a small wintry town in Newfoundland, an island off the coast of Canada. It was a quiet, crimeless shanty little place. The kind of town where no one locked their doors, where neighbours quickly became family, the type of town where a man would marry the girl next door, then move two doors down from their parents’ places, rinse, repeat, there goes the neighbourhood. The first time I visited them, I was jarred by it all. I was coming out of New York City; Prague, St. Petersburg, Barcelona and a slew of other big cities before that. I’d gotten firmly mired in the social nihilism and artful detachment that cultural metropolises wielded as a way of survival. The first time a woman I’d never met before said ‘Hi’ to me outside a grocer’s with a cloying smile, I had to stop myself from telling her to go fu
ck herself, as imposed instinct. In the back of my head securely sat rule #1 of commuting on the F train – when a stranger speaks to you, they’re either trying to rob you or they’re a nutjob. That country bumpkin friendliness seemed saccharine, simpering, unnecessary and just plain boring. Around the middle of my second visit, the charm of it started seeping its way into me a bit - people waving at each other across the street, yammering on about the weather, asking about your life constantly. I dipped my toes in it, made some friends, smiled at strangers more. On the third visit (about 6 years later), I’d settled into a decent mid-ground – I enjoyed the hick howdy-do in small doses, didn’t let anyone too close and generally behaved in a way that kept people at arm’s length without pissing them off (good policy to have in the age of Internet interaction as well). Things were nice and sweet, but with the steadfast understanding that that niceness could spiral into a wearing, dull moment any given second. That resigned, hyper-polite mid-ground has come to define Yo La Tengo’s output post-2000 – a friendly Hey! outside a grocer’s you throw a nod to and then shrug off just as quickly. Fetching, supremely relaxed and winsomely melancholic, There’s a Riot Going On
shuffles and meanders its way through one lovely arrangement after another, alternating between alt. country, electropop, aimless ambient, chamber pop, dream pop and soft rock. There isn’t a sour note to be heard here, which makes both for the record’s attractiveness and its ultimate hindrance. It’s just too much of the same kind of neutered good. Even the songs where they manage to climb out of first gear (For You Too, Out of the Pool) sport neither the brawny fuzz nor the earnest romanticism of their best loud material of yester-century. Not that one comes around to Yo La Tengo for want of noise. They were always singularly masterful at crafting softness that somehow gutted its way through your heart, left you in emotional tatters. But there isn’t anything here that can shake their tender masterpieces like “Autumn Sweater,” “Nowhere Near” or “Our Way to Fall” either. Like the overinvolved amiable small-town simpleton, Riot
stands there with arms wide open, ready to stifle you with puppy love. It’s all delightful and comely and capable; so resolutely pleasant that when it goes in for that un-asked-for hug, you might just want to give it an underhand jab between the ribs to coax even the slightest passion out of it.