These Strange Steps
Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz at 10
Yeah Yeah Yeahs have slackened considerably since Karen O first bellowed “Art Star” with the microphone in her mouth, both in their output (only one album in the 2010s) and propulsion (check out O and Danger Mouse’s Soft Bulletin-channeling new Lux Prima), but that doesn’t make them lyrical.
So while they didn’t exactly turn out to be the Gabba Gabba Heys their early output suggested, the trio’s name is still onomatopoeic for a reason: even moreso than their dynamic frontwoman, guitar- and synth-specialist Nick Zinner turned them to pure sound.
O herself imbues the ear-field with exclamations like “I got a man that makes me wanna kill” and “We’re all gonna burn in hell,” but even her slow ones are impressionistic. “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you” is straightforward, sure. But “maps, maps, maps, maps?” That’s other-hemisphere tour fatigue boiled down to one longing word. “Something like a phenomena” and the title It’s Blitz itself just aren’t English. They’re mouth-sounds whether they’re words or not, and the synthesized Blondie dress-up of the band’s third (and best) full-length was just another way to make ‘em. “You’re zero,” “heads will roll,” “oh, oh, oh” times infinity and punctuated by the word “hysteric,” these are just hooks in words’ clothing. Even people who really love this band largely don’t care what’s being said but how O conveys feeling through the words. “Maps” and “Hysteric” evoke through their ascendant, weaponized guitar squiggles just as much through their incomplete sentences, and there’s no good reason why the latter wasn’t released as a single.
That’s not to say Karen O doesn’t have a legible way with words though; “Shake it like a ladder to sun” is certainly a line opening a rock album in a post-Lil Wayne world, not to mention Andre 3000. If the excellent “Zero” is about anything, it’s the video: dancing on top of cars in a leather jacket. But it’s not really the dance album its instant rush would tease. Slower numbers like “Soft Shock” and the atmospheric, bizarrely Celtic “Skeleton” quickly follow with just as much interest in the space between O’s parts as how she fills them. The singer’s syllable stack-ups as “Dull Life” erupts into double time, or those Pointillist “ohs” in “Hysteric” broaden the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fairly simple sound without giving the listener much to think about.
David Sitek’s popular but infamously thin production was somehow up to the task of making a bassless trio danceable before the EDM bubble burst, and ultimately the sequencer on “Zero” sounded exactly like the guitar effects on “Y Control” six years prior. “Dragon Queen” and “Heads Will Roll” didn’t make the band funky, but did place them more properly in the tradition of Basement Jaxx and Santigold as shallow Urban Outfitters-oriented pleasure after years of not actually fitting into the riot grrrl mold. That doesn’t mean they didn’t deserve their well-won critical acclaim, though, which was especially a boon in 2009, a year when pleasurable songs took a backseat to sonic thrills. It’s Blitz had both.
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