Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Show Your Bones

Oh New York City, I remember your glory days. Back in 2001 you were hailed as the "in" scene for music with The Strokes, The Rapture, Liars and so many others who were supposed to be the "next big thing". Well since those days that we remember so fondly, the Strokes essentially re-released their debut album before releasing an incredibly mediocre third album that didn't appear to have any direction at all. The Rapture released a spectacular album before deciding that they were going to apparently need five years to record the follow-up. And the Liars fired their rhythm section and released an album of noise before jetting off to Germany to become a freak-folk band. So much for the great NYC Rock Revolution of 2001, we've lost them all . . . or have we?

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs took an very different path than most of the other bands of that time. They were an extremely new band as 2001 was emerging, and instead of rushing out a debut album to jump on the bandwagon, they waited, releasing only two EPs worth of material in 2001-2002. They subsequently signed to Interscope and finally released their debut album, Fever to Tell, in April of 2003. The album initially was a bit of a flop as much of the band's hype from the early-NYC days had faded and the garage sound that filled most of the album was old-hat by then, but then something special happened. Nearly a year after the album's release, their label made one last push to make the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the stars they were supposed to be and released "Maps," an extremely unlikely slow, fuzzy song, as a single, and miraculously, it stuck. The next thing they knew, the Yeahs were appearing on the MTV Movie Awards and touring their debut all over again to a whole new audience. So what would they do for an encore? Well, after taking a well-deserved break, the Yeahs hit the studio last year to begin recording what would eventually be Show Your Bones, and my god, have they struck gold this time around.

The change in the band's sound is apparent 6 seconds into the new album as opening track "Gold Lion" starts up with, (gasp), an acoustic guitar. The song builds up and around the 1:15 mark, you find yourself in disbelief staring at the album cover going, "Is this really the same Yeah Yeah Yeahs? I mean, that does sound like Karen O singing, but they seem so much. . . better, more mature, more complete." The recording quality here is on a completely different planet than the hissy, garagey sound that dominated most of Fever to Tell. Plus, there's just so much going on in each song. On FtT, a song sounded complex if there was anything more than one guitar, drums and Karen's vocals. Now acoustic and electric guitars appear in the same song, pianos come in and out of the mix and a song without keyboards or synthesized atmospherics sounds too simple.

Just take "Way Out" as an example, it opens with acoustic guitar and keyboards going side by side giving the song of a bit of a country twang, but halfway through, Nick Zinner blasts through the speakers with one of his wild, crunchy solos, and the song takes on a whole new feel as 80s-style synthesizers appear in the background for the second verse. By the end, there are at least three guitars plus keyboards all playing together, and while it may not sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of old, it is fucking brilliant.

Track #3, "Fancy," then pulls a bit of a trick on you. It starts out sounding like it could have come right of of the debut, except there's a creepy-sounding organ coming in and out of the mix. You start to think maybe the first two songs were just an anomaly, and that this really is just the same band. But then halfway through the second guitar comes in again, and then it all disappears as Karen sings "We rip for three days" repeatedly over a pulsing synthesizer. When the rest of the band kicks back in, it sounds almost Middle Eastern. The song again fades out into a quiet piano before it returns to the sound it started with, but even though it sounds like the old Yeah Yeah Yeahs, after that ride, you know this band is forever changed.

"Cheated Hearts" makes for an excellent centerpiece to the album and has "hit single" written all over it. It's one of the album's more straightforward songs, sticking largely with the simple two guitars and drums (and the occasional keyboard), and though it lacks a traditional chorus, its quiet-loud-quiet dynamic and handclaps make up for it. After the wonderful "Dudley" and the Show Your Bones' only real miss, "Mysteries," the album slows down a bit with the heavily acoustic "Sweets," "Warrior" and "Turn Into." Each has its own unique feel, however and each goes off in a different direction as the song nears its close. The album's closer, "Deja Vu" gets back to rocking with a pretty standard Yeahs' sounding verse, but on the chorus, Karen O almost sounds like Debbie Harry as she croons "It's Deeeeejaaaaa Vuuuuuu." The final 20 seconds perfectly sum up the band's new thick and developed sound as Nick Zinner solos overtop of another guitar and a synthesizer.

A few years ago, an album like this from a group like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would've been greeted by puzzled looks all around, but with the way indie rock has permeated its way into the general public, the average listener is much more prepared for this in 2006. With the whole 80s brit-rock, Duran Duran/New Order/Gang of Four retread fading out, it's time for a new band to carry the indie rock-as-mainstream torch. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think this is the album that could vault the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into that territory. They're not the niche band that Franz Ferdinand or The Killers are, they are extremely talented musicians who were willing to take a huge risk by not retracing the steps of their first album to create an amazing sophomore release. Who knows what they'll give us next.

(My goal was to get this review out before Pitchfork got their review up, my predicted Pitchfork review score: 8.3)

Also, you can stream the new album from here:


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Jess said...

Thanks for the nme link -- hadn't heard of it before (just getting back into the music scene after a few years of a break) -- and it's awesome...listening to the streaming audio at work. So cool. Cheers.

At 7:34 AM, Anonymous i like kitty kats. said...

this might be the first review i've read that doesn't throw in a reference to karen o's beer-drenched outfits. kudos.


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