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Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

  by Sarah Rowland

published: 19 / 4 / 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs


Sarah Johnson looks back upon and assessses the history to date of New York punk trio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who have just released their third album, 'It's Blitz'

The bands that get to be crowned with that ever elusive title ‘iconic’ generally have one very important thing in common. Their sound doesn’t stand still. When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their first EP it crashed through speakers. It rolled together heavy rock guitars and sexy vocals. It had a genuine originality delivered in full Technicolor by front woman Karen O. The latest album, 'It’s Blitz', harnesses that raw originality but delivers it in a completely new way. The band have mastered this approach, exploring a new sound in each of their three albums. Back in 2006, talking about the album 'Show Your Bones', O said in an interview, “I was feeling a little bit more aversion to the more rockish, noisy, kinda histrionic vocals, because I wasn't relating to it as a 27-year-old or 26-year-old as well as I did when I was 21 or 22. And I felt like the angst fizzled out when we were writing this album.” Being able to evolve their sound has meant fans could also grow up still relating to the band's music. Every album is almost like discovering a new group, but with the added anticipation you only get with an old favourite. It’s clear that with 'It’s Blitz' the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have turned another corner. They have taken the essence of what they developed with 'Show Your Bones' and added the kind of subtlety that only comes with experience. Third track, ‘Softshock’, takes the dark undertones typical of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and weaves electronic beats and keys through it. O has always has a raw energy to her vocals but with ‘Softshock’ she delivers a more controlled performance. Her voice still cracks with emotion and energy, but she allows it to wash over you rather than hit you with full force all at once. It’s O’s energy that first grabbed attention for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Her performance is almost manic. She allows herself to become completely emerged in the music and has been compared to Iggy Pop for her freedom on stage. “If anything, it was where I grew up in New Jersey, in Engelwood and Cresskill,” said O in an interview just before 'It’s Blitz' was released in March. “I had a ton of angst. I was an outsider. In my high school, you know the senior poll with people getting ‘Best Legs’ or ‘Best Smile’? I got ‘Most Atypical.’” The angst that O refers to is still very much a part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sound and has been since the band formed in 2000. When O and guitarist Nick Zinner first met in New York in the late 90s they started making acoustic music. It wasn’t long before the influence of punk seeped in and after recruiting one drummer that didn’t quite fit, O called on Brian Chase, who she had met as a student in Ohio. The band gathered momentum very fast. They supported the Strokes and the White Stripes before releasing a self titled EP. The first EP has a very raw unfinished feel to it. Zinner’s grimy guitars and Chase’s heavy drums compete to overpower O’s effortless and at times screeching vocals. ‘Miles Away’ is an example of this power struggle, but because each stream carries its own electricity the concept works. Debut album, 'Fever To Tell', is an extension of the first EP. It sounds almost like a live album. Opener ‘Rich’ introduces the dark sentiment that flows through every Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. But it’s O’s vocals that give the album its distinct and at times unnerving quality. The second track, ‘Date With The Night’, is highly charged with sexuality and control. O doesn’t try to put forward an expressionless demeanour favored by so many women in rock bands. She goes for it completely and has no apologies. ‘Black Tongue’ is again charged with female control. The song shows off the chemistry between the band at full force with a pounding drum beat and a guitar riff that evokes an image of the kind of basement indie club where you stick to the beer soaked floor. ‘Pin’ is another standout track and one that hints that there is much more lurking under the surface of the band. Once ‘Maps’ is rolled out it’s clear the band is more than just a punk-influenced rock band. The track is a subtle love song that, although it still has dark undertones and cavernous drum beats, O’s vocals are more considered. The song is an early indication of the albums to come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. When 'Show Your Bones' was released three years later in 2006 a lot of the difference in the sound came from the recording. The band had moved from tapes to computer and the result was a tighter sound based around more tinny drum beats and intricate guitar riffs. In an interview at the time O said this had been a difficult move for the band. “We wrote this album on ProTools and that opened up infinite tracks and nonlinear songwriting, you know, to the max. And really the sky's the limit with that kind of thing. “And that was probably one of the most difficult things for us to do as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was like a real full-on challenge for us, but it seemed worth exploring because it would be hard not to sound really similar to what we sounded like before without working that way,” she said. 'Show Your Bones' does have the feel of experimenting with new ground. The album is less domineering than the first. Zimmer and Chase seem to make more of an effort to compliment O’s vocals rather than competing with them. Because of this the album is more consistent and the songs more revealing. ‘Way Out’ and ‘Fancy’ have an almost confessional quality, with the latter experimenting with vocal effects that give it an eerie feel that is very different from the raw energy of 'Fever To Tell'. ‘Honeybear’ has an almost country influence over it, mixed seamlessly with rock guitar and cymbal heavy drum rhythms. ‘Mysteries’ takes jangly guitars and lets the drums take over the song. O unleashes a new side to her voice, swinging from a careful narrative to heavy metal wailing. With ‘Warrior’ the band take a quieter approach and again it is a reminder that there is a lot more depth to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sound. ‘Turn Into’ continues this more subtle path. It layers up piano and electric keyboard noises with sentimental lyrics. Each song progresses the album at a steady pace and brings it to a close with the earthy rich tones of ‘The Sweets’. The biggest shift with 'It’s Blitz' is how electric it is. It has a blanket of electronic sounds layered up behind the vocals. The whole thing is more considered and the ‘manic’ quality of their music reeled in. ‘Dull Life’ captures a new energy compiled from years of touring and molding their sound. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gone from a grimy rock band to one worthy of the ‘iconic’ crown. In 2003 O was asked when she started taking music seriously. She said, “I guess when we started getting masses and masses of attention [Laughs]. I was just going with the flow really you know, I mean we started the band without the intentions of having a career in music. It was just something we were doing kinda on the side, and that we were just doing for the fun of it or for the hell of it or something.” With 'It's Blitz' it seems the band have accepted they are in music to stay and are taking advantage of the freedom this gives them. The albums closer ‘Little Shadow’ is a quiet lullaby that again signals another shift in the sound of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. One that will undoubtedly continue to get them masses and masses of attention.

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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Show The Bones (2006)
Confident first album in three years from New York City's the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs which shifts from stomping rock to indie balladry effortlessly
Date With The Night (2003)

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