It's Blitz Import
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the New York City music scene floated in a surfaceless orbit of samplers, shoegazers, and delay pedals. The city's guitars lay choked by a digital fog, or else they lay dustily forgotten. Then, in 2002, an unbridled five-song EP by an unknown band brought noise, sex, passion, and mayhem back to the stage and to the stereo. The band's name evoked the kid who knows that whoever's in charge is full of s**t -- "yeah, yeah, yeah" -- but it also rang with the affirmation of pure rock and roll: F**k yeah! The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first full-length album, Fever to Tell, was simultaneously filthy, infectious, sloppy, and brilliant. You could dance to it, and you could probably die to it. "Maps" was nominated for a Grammy, and the record went gold in the UK.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs spawned a new breed of power trio. They work together as a single organism, but each member maintains their own personality and contributes their own strengths. Think of them as a three-piece Earth, Wind, and Fire. On second thought, it's probably better if you didn't do that. Brian Chase's drumming couldn't be tighter or more precise, even as the band descends into the pitch-dark caves of noise he frequents in his free-jazz spare time--and one can hear rigor and experiment behind even his simplest, no-frills (or -fills) rhythms. Nick Zinner's guitar pushes back--hard--against Chase's formalism, grounding the group in rock and roll at its ballsiest, dirtiest, and most shredly. His soaring, sometimes grinding lines are wires connecting Chase's drums to the psychologically kaleidoscopic vocals of Karen O, who, as the New Yorker has noted, would have been a success "had she appeared with nothing more than a microphone and a pair of maracas."
The band developed an itchy and unshakeable aversion to repeating itself. It would have been easy enough to record another spastic, live-sounding garage album after the success of Fever, but their next full-length, 2007's Show Your Bones, added acoustic guitar and more serious compositions that picked up on the direction suggested by a song like "Maps." Rolling Stone called the record a "textural triumph," and the group honed their legendary stage performance -- one cannot understand the Yeah Yeah Yeahs without seeing Karen O writhing and thriving onstage. A handful of great songs that didn't make it onto Bones became tour staples (and fan favorites), and the band sat down with the celebrated PiL/Slits/Gang of Four producer Nick Launay to record 2007's EP Is Is.
Last year, the Yeahs shook their Etch A Sketch® clean to start work on a new record with producers Dave Sitek and Nick Launay. "We usually go into these things totally blind," Karen O said. "We have no idea what's going to happen when we sit down." This empty page feeling was helped by geography: they began writing the record in the middle of a snowstorm, in a hundred-year-old barn in rural Massachusetts. "You looked out the window and it was just pastures and pastures of snow-covered fields," she said. Zinner had brought along a synthesizer to work with during the writing session, not expecting it to end up on the album. "That was an old keyboard I bought on eBay," he said. "Literally, it was the first day we were setting up, plugging things in. Ten minutes later, we'd written that song 'Skeletons.'" The song--and the whole record--have a new feeling of space and atmosphere that's unusual for the band. "Obviously, synths have been in rock music forever," Zinner says. "But to us it feels new, which is all we really care about--that excitement."
It's Blitz! signals both a glance backward and a step forward for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Zinner's vintage Arp--the same model used on records by The Cars, Joy Division, and Kraftwerk--contributes atmospheric washes ("Skeletons"), disco wiggles ("Dance till you're dead!" Karen sings on "Heads Will Roll"), and New Wave melodrama ("Soft Shock"). The first single, "Zero," combines all these elements to create a dance-floor anthem that sings directly to the listener. "We've got a death grip on the adolescent way of feeling things," O said. That's something I'll never be able to shake in the music I write. It's almost feels like a John Hughes 80s movie." But acknowledging the past in this way doesn't sound make for a nostalgic-sounding album. "I think there's a cool stability reflected in this record," Brian Chase says. "It reflects our transformation, and how we've developed as people."