Album Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!

[Interscope; 2009]

On the surface, not too much has changed about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The group’s punkier, early-2000s counterpart still had the same 3 members: frontwoman Karen O, multi-instrumentalist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase. They had a similar sound to other New York City garage rock bands, but they had a secret weapon the others didn’t. Karen O has screamed, squealed, and serenaded her way through the band’s first set of releases, gaining quite a reputation in the indie rock world. Now they are faced with the choice many of their contemporaries have been forced to make: do they expand their sound in search of the continued relevance the White Stripes and the Strokes have enjoyed, or go down in history as a footnote a la the Vines?

For their third studio album, It’s Blitz!, the band called back TV on the Radio guitarist/producer Dave Sitek, who has produced most of the band’s releases, as well as Nick Launay, who produced 2007’s Is Is EP. Yeah Yeah Yeahs establish their control from the start, when the electronic rumble of opener and lead single “Zero” comes pulsating through your speakers. “Shake it like a ladder to the sun” won’t become the new “shake it like a Polaroid picture”, but its still a good line to open the record and it will probably be a big shout along at future shows. The song has an absolutely monster chorus which almost climbs that ladder to that sun, before coming back to earth with the disco freakout “Heads Will Roll.”

“Heads” is almost a total contrast to “Zero,” but it’s on the same note in the sense of the band moving in a new direction. With its numerously repeated lines and breakbeat drumming, it’s already leading the charge to be a future club banger, and will (hopefully) see numerous remixes in the future. Following “Heads”, the record cools down after the powerful one-two punch of “Zero” and “Heads”, with Karen O taking a very relaxed vocal tone on “Soft Shock” and “Skeletons”. This is far from being a bad thing: with the right atmospheres and light drumming, Karen O taking this hushed of a vocal register is actually a thing of beauty.

Elsewhere, the bass gets big, on “Shame and Fortune,” which is one of the album’s catchiest songs. “Runaway” is this album’s “Maps”, a hushed song vocally that builds into a wide-open tale of lost love. “Dragon Queen” is an extremely dance-y number, and the ambient pop of “Hysteric” features a shout of the song’s title that might be the closest thing (using the term loosely) to the shouts of the band’s early days. Again, the band return to the quiet sound at the end of the album for the march of “Little Shadow”. Karen begs the question of “Little shadow, to the night, will you follow me?” When the destination is this good, that isn’t much of a question.