Yeah Yeah Yeahs – [Album]

Monday, 29 April 2013

On Mosquito, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs seemed determined to tap into our deepest fears. Just a glance down the song titles reads like a list of phobias: “Sacrilege,” “Subway,” “Mosquito,” “Slave,” “Buried Alive,” “Despair.” You are already uneasy before you even hit play.

"Sacrilege," a punk rock song with a gospel chorus, kicks things off right away by putting the fear of god into you, without ever letting you know just what (in the band's collective mind) "sacrilege" is. Then the CD drops directly from that aggressive edginess into the ghosts of "Subway." A haunting, spare tune, it evokes both lost love and a subway ride at 4 am, when you're the only person in the car.

The title track, with its tribal drums and buzzsaw guitar slashing across the vocals, turns a minor phobia into full fledged panic. In Karen O's hands, the insect becomes a metaphor for anyone and anything which lives off of you. "Were you itching when they called your name?/… They'll suck your blood!/ Suck your blood/ suck your…"

And so on straight through the album. The music is consistently just a little off kilter, with that sharp-edged guitar coming in from all angles, and keyboards providing random accents. There is lots of echo, giving it the atmosphere of a dark, foggy night, pure ghost story material.

The lyrics continue their march through our nightmares, from slavery to UFOs to being buried alive. By the time you reach the song "Always," with its hypnotic repetition of the title, even eternity sounds like a terrifying prospect.

This nightmare atmosphere is so thick that, even though the album tries to end on a positive note, it doesn't convince. "Despair" struggles to be hopeful, but with its dark melody and lines like: "Oh despair, you've always been there," it doesn't pull it off. The best it can muster is, "Through the darkness and the light/ some sun has got to rise."

Likewise, the closer, "Wedding Song," doesn't evoke "Here Comes the Bride" so much as "Bride of Frankenstein." Or something even more sinister. "Some kind of violent bliss/ lead me to a love like this/ .. In flames I sleep soundly/ with angels around me."

Of course, many of us listen to rock for just this kind of dark thrill, to have our nightmares evoked in the safety of our rooms. If that's the case with you, crank it up. With the lights on bright, or off completely, it's your choice. Just be prepared to shiver.


Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito – “Mosquito” – [mp3]


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Yeah Yeah Yeahs – [Album]

Saturday, 28 March 2009

It's been three years since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs broke through with Show Your Bones and rode a tidal wave of popular and critical acclaim which took them from private underground pleasures to mainstream radio “it” band, but that doesn't mean they've been inactive in the intervening years. Sensing that they had a hot, in-demand commodity on their hands, primary YYY shareholders Karen O and Nick Zinner stayed busy by attaching their names to any and (presumably) every project goodly enough to have them; O contributed vocals to songs by the likes of Tiny Masters Of Today and NASA among others while Zinner worked with Scarlett Johannson on her debut album, remixed Bloc Party and made other assorted appearances on albums by everyone from Psychic TV to Ronnie Spector to The Horrors to Marilyn Manson to Gang Of Four – it was a busy few years.

The problem was that, while being so busy would be gratifying for any musician, both O and Zinner were merely being framed as one-sound specialists; while they were asked to appear on records by performers of a multitude of disciplines, their parts were simply variations on the same sounds. By the time they finally did get back to doing heir own thing, they'd repeated themselves so often that they must have been sick of both their established soud and aesthetic. If that's the case, it would certainly explain the nearly complete sonic departure that It's Blitz! represents.

There's no doubt that the fans that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs won with Show your Bones will be take sorely aback by the tremendously clean and unsettlingly slick sheen of It's Blitz! As synthetic, danceable beats, cavernous, echoed vocals and walls of keyboards open “Zero,” the band issues notice that they are not – and may never again be – the band that their fans thought they knew so well. The stomping guitar riffs and Karen O's stand-off-ish vocal presence are gone as if they never were and in their place rest enough beat-happy dance floor vamps that could have been lifted directly out of Madonna's early repertoire (think “Holiday” and you're on the right track) to have eyebrows lifting at the speed of sound.

That doesn't necessarily make It's Blitz! a disappointment (though some older fans certainly will be), it's simply a mammoth shock to the system for the unsuspecting.

After “Zero” fades out and “Heads Will Roll” nixes the possibility of the track being a fluke by following a similar framework, the band falls into an electro-savvy groove that, surprisingly, works for them. While the uninitiated will certainly take to the chamber-hymn vibes of “Soft Shock” and “Skeletons” with gusto, it gets easier  for old hands to get into the mood as well – particularly as the record progresses and the band doesn't break stride. Zinner's trademark guitar licks are few and far between throughout the proceedings but, when they do assert themselves (as on “Dull Life” – which is the standout song on the album – and “Dragon Queen”), the resemblance to Eighties rhythm n' punk acts like Blondie and The Pretenders becomes more than just a passing one and the songs do get progressively more infectious as they move along.

On the list of gambles for an established (and celebrated) base to take, It's Blitz! is undoubtedly one of the biggest but the band does seem to know that and it's presumably why the second half is dominated by alternate takes of the same songs. As if long-time fans weren't confused enough by the approach the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have taken for this album, the band goes a step further with acoustic versions of “Soft Shock,” “Skeletons,” “Hysteric” and “Little Shadow” to illustrate another avenue Yeah Yeah Yeahs could have taken but, in an utterly bizarre way (nothing about this record fits convention though really, so why not?) the re-interpretations of the songs will be comforting to those taken off-guard by the first side. Sounding far more like Blonde Redhead than anyone would assume they could, the band evokes some pastoral sweetness and shows still more musical versatility by unveiling here-to-fore unseen romantic dynamic, instrumentation (the string sections actually work in this context) and tempos.

So what is It's Blitz! and what can listeners expect from Yeah Yeah Yeahs in the future? All bets are off. Given the band's history and the significant difference between it and the sounds that appear fully-formed on this album, there's no telling where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs will go next and that is the greatest bait this album offers. With It's Blitz!, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have proven that the field is wide open and their fans should stay tuned….


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It's Blitz! will be released on March 31, 2009. Pre-order your copy now on Amazon .

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