Monday, June 1, 2009

It's Blitz - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It’s Blitz

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Interscope Records.

SCQ Rating: 83%

As a lifetime member of the Mixtape culture, I can attest to having issued and received countless mixtapes assembled by and for future friends or present love interests. As anyone in a similar position can certify, Mixtapes – regardless of your feelings towards the mixer or mix-recipient – either make the cut or become an obligatory pat-on-the-back; meaning that any mix’s success depends far more on the openness of one's music preferences than their interests in Mr. or Ms. Would-Be. After all, if you’re willing to cave for Lady Gaga to please your presumably female admirer, well, the music isn’t really the focus, now is it? The most homogenous mixtape I ever received was actually an album, Fever To Tell, and despite my openness, I could not adapt to the Chrissie Hynde-on-ecstasy yelping of front-woman Karen O. The fact that I could only enjoy two songs – the two in which Karen just managed to keep her shit together – informed me of my duty straight-away: to orchestrate an artificial pat-on-the-back, sounding something like “Oh yeah, that Yeah Yeah Yeah’s record is really started to catch on”. Return to sender.

Anyone living above or around giant rocks knew that the imminent arrival of It’s Blitz meant crunch-time for the NY-based three-piece; after the mad success of their debut and the overt growing pains of Show Your Bones, this third album would either pronounce or dispel their relevancy. As it would happen, the next person to introduce me to Karen O. and co. would be my brother, another non-fan whose unprovoked spin of ‘Soft Shock’ caught my ear two walls away last month. To put It’s Blitz into perspective after my aforementioned disinterest, I had to ask whom he was listening to. That’s how serious, how splendid, how dicey and how victorious this record is. Take in all the hype: how Nick Zinner – easily one of garage-rock’s iconic guitarists of the 00s – disarmed himself to synthesizers, how Karen O backed off on her drinking ways and found a mature balance between art and living, how It’s Blitz utilizes none of their previously documented strengths to make their best record yet. It’s all true and it’s all masturbation. What matters here is the menacing guitar brooding like a Godspeed! You Black Emperor crescendo beneath ‘Runaway’, the layering of deep synth-stabs and twinkled melody on ‘Soft Shock’, the New Order pulse behind ‘Heads Will Roll’’s dancefloor stomp and how ‘Hysterics’ manages to tap into a vulnerability we all thought Karen O exhausted with ‘Maps’.

The record is damn-near phenomenal; in songwriting, production and execution it showcases a clear evolution from their garage-rock hey-day while vindicating the predictable sophomore-slump. Most indicatively, It’s Blitz makes me emotionally care about Karen O. I could appreciate Yeah Yeah Yeahs as a tight band six years ago, sure, but I never expected the shrieking, maximized icon of yore to refine herself into someone so unabashedly exposed, and whose voice asserts its beauty by flirting with its own limitations. That It’s Blitz comes packaged with four acoustic renditions is an otherworldly bonus for Yeah Yeah Yeahs' fans, furthering the oddity of their progression by boasting the ease in which their new material translates to acoustic parameters (lord knows you couldn’t write a violin part for ‘Black Tongue’ worth hearing). Is this CD-only acoustic addendum an incentive to woo fans that downloaded the leak in March, or are Yeah Yeah Yeahs overly self-satisfied? Hopefully both, because It’s Blitz entails bragging-rights for being a salvation-album as well as one that happens to be chocked full of Mixtape-potential.

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