By the time I had finished my first listen of There’s a Riot Going On, I had already forgotten about it. As I would any other album, I gave it the benefit the doubt, assumed it was a grower, and hours later delved back into its soft, smooth aesthetic. This process has been repeated a number of times, and I still don’t have much to say about it.
As the title insinuates, Yo La Tengo offer their listeners a subdued space to unwind whilst the outside world continues to crumble. An admirable ambition, and a welcomed approach in theory, but the execution is underwhelming. There’s a Riot Going On essentially consists of gentle guitar strumming, indistinct vocals, and floating ambient pulsations. I find the ambient passages more engaging than most of actual songs, which is never a good sign. That’s not to discredit the impact of “Shortwave” — as it’s rather divine — but rather to expose the feebleness of the overall experience. Nothing sticks. The songwriting isn’t bad, it’s probably even quite good, but the performances are unbelievably lifeless.
There’s a Riot Going On has the smooth, patient aesthetic of a folksy wonder, but the songs themselves have been criminally overlooked. Whilst its sound is too pleasant to warrant any real displeasure, it’s unlikely that the record will make any sort of splash in the current of new releases. The truth is, it never stood a chance.
5 out of 10
I can only assume There’s a Riot Going On was given its title as a joke. Listening to the album has been like trying to stay awake after a couple of days without sleep. As far as I can tell, Yo La Tengo decided to undertake a dreamy ambient rock project and lacked the restraint necessary to make it work. It isn’t bad. Instead it’s boring, which might be even worse. The sonic palette is murky and the songwriting is lax. Any time the group stumble onto a passable bass line or soothing melody they run it into the ground in some sort of slow motion indie panic. I had no idea three-minute songs could last so long.
There’s the makings of a decent ambient work here, but the execution has been thoroughly botched. Clock-watching is one of the worst possible responses you can have to an album, and There’s a Riot Going On inspires it in spades. Any promise it had is lost beneath the surface of a shoegaze mire.
5 out of 10
I don’t take any pleasure in lambasting Yo La Tengo’s latest release. Listening through There’s a Riot Going On, you’re met with warm, often calming instrumentals which are easy on the ear but don’t feature a lot of progression. It does well at setting an atmosphere and works best as background music, but the fact that the record does little more than that exposes its flaws.
“Esportes Casual” would function perfectly as elevator music as it noodles around above a chord sequence throughout its play time, and while that may’ve been the intention of the track, it’s difficult not to see a similar trend across the tracklist. Tracks like “Shortwave”, a far more graceful and ethereal song, definitely play better as they verge closer to an ambient soundscape, than the awkward, in-between style that the majority of the album settles on.
There’s unfortunately not a lot more I can say for There’s a Riot Going On. Stick it on during dinner and you’ll probably find a lot to like, with some notable moments and enjoyable moods to pique your interest. But if you concentrate on the music, you’re unlikely to uncover much more of note, and that feels like a critical element of a good album that inhibits There’s a Riot Going On from reaching greater heights.
5 out of 10