Yeah Yeah Yeahs
3.5 out of 5 stars
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are more baffling than your average band. In an attempt to hype up its third studio release It’s Blitz!, YYYs released a series of short films called the “SNAKESWEAT TRILOGY.” The films, according to the band’s blog, provide an intimate look into the “day to day recording activities” involved in the making of its music. The films themselves, however, are crazy and avant-garde: They’re filmed in black and white, set in the desert and star guitarist Nick Zinner setting Barbie dolls on fire and drummer Brian Chase doing yoga on an industrial oil drum. Perhaps the films really do document YYYs’s daily recording routines, but, then again, probably not.
One might venture to guess that It’s Blitz!, the album the odd “SNAKESWEAT” films endorse, is similarly ironic. Just as the films play off avant-garde art clichés, the album plays off retro music clichés — namely dance music of the ’70s and ’80s — with an abundance of kick-drum-heavy beats, an excess of Enya-like synths and twangy disco guitars. The sound is a step removed from sophomore album Show Your Bones’s acoustic center, and it’s a leap away from first studio album Fever To Tell’s art-house rock. But It’s Blitz! is still infused with the previous albums’ penchant for the dark and brooding hidden beneath catchy melodies and sexy vocals. It’s a welcome move toward a more genre-specific sound that, while playing off clichés, is ironically fresh.
It’s Blitz! doesn’t try to appropriate disco music per se, but instead creates a moody, dark parody of it; it’s a dance album filmmaker David Lynch (in his “Blue Velvet” period) would have made had he possessed the musical chops. While the album contains a copious amount of upbeat dance grooves, its lyrics, sung by the versatile Karen O, are hauntingly ironic and oddly macabre. On “Heads Will Roll,” while Chase knocks out a “Heart of Glass”-like beat, O lashes out, honey-sweet and reverb-heavy, “Off with your head / Dance ‘till you’re dead / Heads will roll / on the floor.”
Songs like “Soft Shock” and “Dull Life” showcase O’s voice as an essential instrumental component backing the drums and guitars; her voice presents the album with a necessary driving force with its sharp breathy intonations and deep-throated moans. Still, certain songs on the album lose their momentum when the band tries to back-track and revisit sounds from previous albums. “Skeletons,” with its calming, atmospheric synths and sparse drummer-boy percussion, tries too hard to imitate YYYs’s single “Maps” with heartfelt yet overly reminiscent lyrics: “Love my name / love left dry / Frost or flame / skeleton me.”
Another such song is “Shame and Fortune,” which revisits Show Your Bones’s sound with its loud, fuzz-heavy guitar lines and plain, predictable rhythmic beat that doesn’t strive to achieve It’s Blitz!’s twisted retro dance sound.
The album, however, makes intriguing headway on tracks including “Dragon Queen,” where YYYs consciously uses harp plucks and Bee Gees-reminiscent disco guitars to create a dark dance feel, and “Zero,” which relies on addictively droning keyboards and Moog synths.
It’s Blitz!’s movement towards a new sound is a welcome one, but the band on occasion slips back into safer territory, preferring, at times, sounds that’ve been done before. Perhaps a more gutsy move into dance territory would have made the album much more outstanding, but YYYs has already cemented itself into an art-rock oddity not only with its Barbie-melting film series but with It’s Blitz!’s conscious foray into uncharted musical territories that still retains the band’s characteristically macabre feel.