“Grower” is an easily abused term. As sure as Stockholm syndrome, almost any track can seem likable if you hear it often enough. But sometimes there are songs that even on first listen whisper tacit promises of growing old together; part of what hooks you about the initial impression is a sense the music’s pleasures will only ripen with time. “Before We Run,” the first song to emerge from Yo La Tengo’s first album in more than three years, Fade, falls firmly into this latter category.
Filmmaker/animator Emily Hubley’s video for the song makes the idea of a “grower” almost explicit, as colorful polka dots swirl around an endearingly craggy tree that ultimately finds at its feet the New Jersey band’s three members, so tiny you could just about miss them. Emily’s sister Georgia Hubley, who co-founded the group with guitarist husband Ira Kaplan, takes lead vocals on the tender six-minute track, which gleams with horns, strings, and tendrils of distortion: vibrant, unhurried, and alive. Bassist James McNew’s presence is difficult to detect beneath oompahing brass, but the hypnotic effect here is happily more krautrock than German beer hall.
Though “Before We Run” is the first proper taste of Fade, which arrives January 15 via Matador, it’s the last track on the album. The label has compared the record to the band’s tuneful, unassumingly adventeresome peaks, such as 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. That’s a high bar to clear, but it’s a comparison that suits a recent non-album version of a cut from the LP, “Stupid Things.” And when Georgia and Hubley sing in harmony that “there’s only us,” just try telling them they have separate pulses.
The follow-up to 2009’s characteristically excellent Popular Songs is available for preorder now. The deluxe vinyl, numbered and printed on rainbow foil, includes a bonus 7-inch that may shed light on the band’s inspirations here: On one side is a cover of classic-rock iconoclast Todd Rundgren’s Carole King-like “I Saw the LIght,” while on the other is a cover of noise-poppers Times New Viking’s Yo La Tengo-like “Move to California.” Befitting the baseball-related origins of Yo La Tengo’s name, the deal sounds a bit like a major-league trade — it includes an 11-minute bonus download to be named later.