Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the New York-based rock trio, quickly made a name for themselves, with their signature bare-bones, punk-influenced sound, touring alongside the similarly raw-sounding White Stripes as well as New York mainstay indie rocker The Strokes, in the early 2000s.
It’s Blitz,” their third full-length studio album, was released on Mar. 31, two weeks ahead of its release date after—surprise!—it was leaked on the Internet.
their first two albums, there’s nothing stripped-down or raw about “It’s Blitz,” a polished album of electronic-infused rock that cites ’70s disco, Joy Division, and Karen O’s well-known love of dancing as influences. Instead of echoing hardcore punk with brash guitar lines and wild vocals, their songs build up intricate layers of subtle melody and harmony.
The band’s name is a tribute to the New York vernacular’s ennui-inflected brush-off “yeah, yeah, yeah.” As a native New Yorker, I can tell you the phrase embodies the city’s ubiquitous cynicism. On “It’s Blitz,” they live up to their name more than ever. While their previous two albums were high-energy, hands-on musical attacks, this album is laid back in a way that almost suggests boredom. They exhibit profound emotional detachment, allowing their instruments to take a backseat to lo-fi electronic soundscapes, as Zinner trades his guitar for a synthesizer, Chase’s drums become muddled by a ubiquitous drum machine, and Karen O’s voice gets buried under layers of noise.
The album starts not with the expected raging guitar riff, but with a quiet synth pulse as Karen O melodically intones the verse, inching up stepwise to command the listener to “get your leather on” and join in the dance. The groove moves quickly, propelled by a funky hi-hat-heavy drumbeat and catchy, singable melody. The dance anthem really picks up when a sweet synth solo at the halfway marks a segue into a cool, syncopated bridge. The first time I heard this song, it made me want to dance, and also made me excitedly expect an unrestrained, high-energy album.
Unfortunately, Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout, and much of the album dissolves into electronic oblivion. The hedonistic “Heads Will Roll” suffers from a lack of real instrumentation. The brooding “Soft Shock” sounds like the old Yeah Yeah Yeahs in their quieter moments. Although the synth and drum machine are pervasive, Karen O’s almost crestfallen voice makes the song far more emo-indie than electronic.
But the album picks up halfway through. The Killers-esque “Dull Life” shifts from a slow start of delayed-guitar to an electrifying fix of booming drum rolls and heavily distorted fuzz guitar line, which combined with Karen O’s shift back to brash, shouted lyrics, injects new life into an almost-stagnating album just in the nick of time. Even though the album is about the boredom of a dull life, it manages to avoid dullness itself. The second half particularly drives forward with extraordinary energy and is reminiscient of Coldplay’s better work.
The eclectic, Asian-influenced “Dragon Queen” is strangely compelling. An altogether intoxicating mix of disco and rock, it includes an extremely dissonant synth line reminiscent of old school hip-hop. Here, the drum machine actually complements Chase’s sexy disco backbeat, and Karen O manages to tap into her newfound soft melodies while retaining her wild unpredictability.
The best part about the album is that the band has finally found a mature sense of melody. Karen O’s mastery of melodic tension creates beautiful, complex moments. However, musical layering and electronic hubbub obscure the once-indomitable Karen O’s shrill, piercing voice. Although some of Karen O’s vocal work is truly beautiful, she doesn’t shriek once on the entire album, much to my chagrin, leaving the album incomplete. The album meanders, unpunctuated, less a blitz than a slow, steady walk.
“It’s Blitz” is more suited to dance halls than gritty city streets, and definitely risks alienating fans. In a way, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t really sound like themselves, and while I enjoyed certain aspects of the album, I found myself missing the crunchy guitars, booming drums, and Karen O’s artful screaming and wailing. “It’s Blitz” does show that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are artistically ambitious and unafraid to take musical risks; they have some great ideas. However, their execution is too low-energy, leaving one with the sense that they started picking up electronic instruments because they were out of ideas on their old ones and too tired to thrash around anymore. Ironically, while their previous efforts were completely electrifying, their new electronic sound comes off cold.