For a record constructed in such an unconventional, informal manner, Yo La Tengo’s There’s A Riot Going On is surprisingly structural
Despite the intriguing novelty of There’s A Riot Going On’s back story, perhaps its most striking departure—as well as a subtle key to its effectiveness—is largely structural. The 15-track album has a carefully balanced form, with its 64 minutes divided about evenly between five lengthier, drone- and/or groove-based pieces (either fully or partially instrumental) and 10 more typically song-like cuts (ordered in a neatly symmetrical arrangement).
The longer pieces appear as bookends—“You Are Here” and “Here You Are” (the titles fittingly, if perhaps unintentionally, recall their great recent Man Forever collaboration, “You Were Never Here”)—and as a cluster of three in the middle of the album (least characteristic, most fully ambient piece “Shortwave,” somewhere between Tim Hecker and Julianna Barwick, is at the exact midpoint). Meanwhile, the songs, which range from classically mild fuzz-rocker “For You Too” to a slack, wispy cover of Michael Hurley’s “Polynesia” to cutesy beatbox bossa “Esportes Casual,” are arrayed in two sets of five apiece, one on either “side.”
The result is an intriguingly fluid listen. Unlike some Yo La Tengo albums that offer a motley smörgåsbord, veering from style to style, this one drifts gradually, casually from coherence to abstraction and back again.
—K. Ross Hoffman