Monday, March 09, 2009
When the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their debut album Fever to Tell in 2003 following two acclaimed EPs. They were one of the hot new bands from the New York City garage scene that also included the Strokes. Though they were signed to a label with affiliations with the major label Interscope, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were still considered indie by critics and their growing legion of fans. An unexpected hit in the song Maps gave them some mainstream attention as they were set to work on their second album. Vocalist Karen O was already going through high profile relationships with the Liars frontman Angus Andrew and film director Spike Jones.
Working with Jones’ brother Sam Spiegel for the Show Your Bones album, the band wanted to reinvent themselves musically as they leaned towards more acoustic instruments, broader arrangements, and diverse styles. The resulting album received some acclaim from fans and critics but some felt the album lacked the primal intensity of Fever to Tell as well as its cohesiveness. It was around the time that tension within the band was becoming troubling as Karen O, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase were dealing with fame and personal turmoil. 2007's Is Is EP featured re-recorded songs written from the Fever to Tell tour was produced by Nick Luanay. The famed producer who worked with acts like Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Public Image Ltd., and the Slits.
The record brought new inspiration from the band as they took a break to do side projects. In 2008, the band decided to return to the studio to work with Nick Luanay and their Fever to Tell producer David Andrew Sitek of TV on the Radio, who did additional production on Show Your Bones. For the next record, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs decided to reinvent themselves once again by trading guitars for synthesizers for some tracks. At the same time, the band explore the dance-punk sub-genre as well as more elements of post-punk for what is probably the band’s best work to date entitled It’s Blitz!
Written & performed by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs with production by Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek, It’s Blitz! is an album filled with hypnotic, synthesizer-driven dance-punk songs, haunting ballads, and genre-bending cuts. With Karen O’s vocals more confident and engaging than in previous albums without the screeches of early albums. The musicianship of Nick Zinner on guitars, bass, keyboards, and synthesizers and Brian Chase on drums and other percussive-driven instruments reaches new heights in its performance and precision. The album features guest appearances from Sitek’s TV on the Radio cohorts Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, the Birds and the Bees instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs touring bassist Imaad Wasif, and from the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, trumpet player Eric Biondo and saxophonist Stuart Bogie. The result isn’t just a new defining step for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but also one of 2009's most surprising albums.
The album opens with its leading single Zero, a song that opens with a shimmering, menacing synthesizer line with Karen O’s sensual vocal lead the way. With Brian Chase’s thumping, throbbing beats and hi-hat cymbal crashes, the song becomes this full-on, dance-punk song with a wailing synthesizer accompaniment as Karen sings lyrics of loneliness meshed with her high-octane vocals. The track features wonderful arrangements by Nick Zinner on a guitar and synthesizer that includes a melodic, buzz-laden synthesizer solo. Heads Will Roll is an upbeat, electro-punk track with Chase’s throbbing, rhythmic drum beats, Zinner’s hypnotic synthesizer layers with swift, arpeggio guitar melodies in the background. Yet, it’s Karen’s vocals that is filled with wailing, energetic cries and a soft, silky range that is filled with partying lyrics for a song that is truly a dance number with a unique punk energy. Soft Shock is a mid-tempo number with melodic synthesizer tracks and smooth, thumping rhythms from Brian Chase’s drums. With a flute-like synthesizer solo in the background that sounds like a guitar, Karen’s vocals are smooth and calm as she sings imagery-laden lyrics filled with wonderful description along with Zinner’s swirling, melodic guitar accompaniment.
The ballad Skeletons is one of the album’s chilling highlights with its ambient-like synthesizer shimmers and wailing accompaniment as Karen’s somber yet seductive vocals being the major highlight of the song. Filled with melancholic lyrics, it’s a ballad that is earnest in its melancholia with Brian Chase bringing in soft yet powerful tom-tom beats and tapping sticks along with Zinner’s wailing, woodwind-like synthesizer solo that recalls the early synthesizer experiments of late 70s era David Bowie. Dull Life starts off as a haunting, melodic ballad led by Zinner’s guitar and Karen’s haunting vocals filled with dark lyrics as it becomes a more intense, mid-tempo track with thumping beats. With its swift, energetic performance of rollicking drums and driving guitars, it’s the band getting back to their old sound but in a refined fashion due to the crisp, layered production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek.
Shame And Fortune is a mid-tempo song with fuzzy bass lines and Chase’s shimmering, hi-hat beat accompaniment. With Chase’s pounding drums and Zinner’s bass-driven presentation driving the song, it’s Karen’s sinister, wailing vocals filled with angry lyrics that reveal the band being confrontational but without any of their old fury. Instead, Zinner’s screeching guitar solo and simple rhythms show a new side to the band without going into their old punk energy. Runaway is a piano-ballad of sorts featuring Greg Kurtsin playing a haunting piano accompaniment with Karen’s soothing vocals filled with evocative notes in her vocals. With a momentum-building arrangement from Zinner’s sliding, ethereal guitar, a cello performance from Jane Scarpantoni, and Chase bringing in a thumping drum track. It’s a new sound to the band that has them getting into darker territory with its somber lyrics and broad presentation that is fierce but also seductive.
Dragon Queen is a mid-tempo, funky track that features TV on the Radio vocalist Tunde Adebimpe on backing vocals and guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone an accompanying tambourine. With Zinner’s melodic, swanky guitar and swirling synthesizer accompaniment with throbbing beats from Chase as Karen and Tunde Adebimpe sings the song’s verse. With its colorful, abstract lyrics, it features funky guitar breaks in the chorus with Karen’s lush, evocative vocals leading the way. Hysteric is another mid-tempo track that features thumping beats, vibrato guitar riffs, and melodic synthesizer notes as Karen sings in a cool, ethereal vocal. For its soothing chorus with a lush synthesizer accompaniment, Karen’s vocals take on a new world with her dreamy lyrics as she’s later accompanied by saxophonist Stuart Bogie and trumpeter Eric Biondo in the second half of the song as it’s one of the album’s great cuts. The album closer is the somber, acoustic-ballad Little Shadow that features Karen’s soft, dreamy vocals filled with melancholic lyrics. With the band’s auxiliary musician Imaad Wasif playing a melodic acoustic guitar track, it’s Chase’s slow, vibrant tom-tom drums that creates a building momentum. Then the track becomes bigger with Zinner’s ambient-like synthesizer swirls and dreamy guitar as it accompanies Karen’s somber vocals to its evocative ending.
What makes It’s Blitz! superior than its predecessors is its consistency, flow, and the production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek. Whereas Show Your Bones had a sluggish flow and production that was too sparse despite an array of great songs. It’s Blitz! is a record that has the band taking on someone as experienced like Nick Luanay along with longtime cohort David Andrew Sitek to shape their album. Along with dabbling their experiment into more synthesizer-driven sounds and re-shaping their art-punk sound. It’s Luanay’s experience in working on various different musical styles and Sitek’s experimentalism that actually gives the album a balance previous albums didn’t have. The result is something that’s more fluid and songs that range from dance-punk, arty ballads, and hybrid songs that often range from bands like the Smiths to the Cure.
At the same time, there’s a renewed sense of confidence in the band in their performance as Brian Chase’s drums delve into more rhythms as he plays with a precision and energy that wasn’t really heard in Show Your Bones. Nick Zinner proves to be the band’s key musician as he’s really the drive to what makes this album unique whether he’s playing guitar or synthesizers while making the instruments sound each other. Then there’s Karen O as the screeching, grunts, and yelps of her vocals in previous album have changed for something more sensual, lush, and evocative as she truly is the heart of the album. Yet, it’s a Yeah Yeah Yeahs record at the fullest form as all three create something that really shows a unique progression that is surely going to make them a band to watch in the years to come.
It’s Blitz! is far and beyond a masterpiece from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that goes all over the place and doesn’t lose sight of what it achieves. Fans of the band will be surprised by what the album sounds like in its different styles yet be amazed they haven’t lost their energy or eclectic sound. It’s a record that is filled with dance tunes, funk songs, ballads, and romps that all fit in at the right place at the right time. Thanks in part to the superb production of Nick Luanay and David Andrew Sitek, it’s a record that is enjoyable in every note and sound as it makes it enjoyable and fresh with repeated hearings. In the end, It’s Blitz! is an album that proclaims that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are fulfilling their potential and more.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP: http://www.epinions.com/content_108272455300
Fever to Tell: http://www.epinions.com/content_98296761988
Gold Lion: http://www.epinions.com/content_224252300932
Show Your Bones: http://www.epinions.com/content_462706347652
Is Is EP: http://www.epinions.com/content_400106425988
Atlanta, GA-Echo Lounge 11/10/03: http://www.epinions.com/content_3594690692
Atlanta, GA-The Tabernacle 10/14/06: http://www.epinions.com/content_4873101444