I have to admit I am a latecomer to YYY. I have heard a few songs in the past that I have liked, such as “Maps”, “Heads Will Roll”, and an appearance here or there by Karen O., such as on the excellent Frankenweenie “soundtrack”. But I never fully immersed myself in their sound until now. So I can’t really say “this is better than/worse than their older material”, or “this is their sell-out point’ or any of those things you see in a review of an artist that started underground and now is part of the popular alternaverse.
My intro to this album was in the form of the mind-bending first video for the first track “Sacrilege”. Karen O. has a voice that packs a sneak-attack. It starts out soft and soothing and then at some point snaps out to bite you. The song is eerily mellow in its approach, with some overdriven echo and reverb give it just the right creepy feel. And then a church choir joins in, which makes it feel even more oddly darker than before.
“Subway” is a hypnotizing daydream of a song that starts with the rhythm of subway cars and drits off the way one would if dozing on the train. This song grows on me with each listen. And then we get to the frenzy of “Mosquito”, which is a bit harder rock track that incorporates some dub reggae techniques. And Karen threatens to suck your blood. “Under the Earth” builds on more of the dub tinges and becomes something of a long lost Clash song in the vein of “Straight To Hell”. The reverb kind of pulls you into the rhythm as the song goes on. “Slave” has a creeping thumping bassline and a driving guitar line from Nick Zinner and some almost tribal drums giving it some extra heat. My expectation is that this sultry song will be one of the singles to make it to the radio, as it has just the right punch. “These Paths” follows the tinker of a quiet drum machine pattern and spiral into a dizzy track that feels like if YYY worked on one of the Pet Shop Boys’ darker hypnotic b-sides.
Then we plunge back into heavy and faster with the swagger of “Area 52”. I’ve already seen one review that calls this merely a strange song about aliens. That seems a bit dismissive. There’s an overall arc here that the songs all have an otherworldly feel, like this is one long hazy daydream. maybe what would happen if you dozed off on Nyquil while simultaneous listening to Karen O. sing, and watching “The Fly”, or some bizarre movie (yes, the cover made me think of The Fly I guess). But to my ears Karen O. has always sounded like an otherworldly creature of the night kind of singer. So why not?
“Buried Alive” contains the real left turn of the album, with a cameo rap verse from Dr. Octagon (a/k/a Old school hip-hop great Kool Keith). The styles in the song surprisingly meld together quite well. Again there’s some dubby reverb in the mix that ties it together as well and this is quite a good track. “Always” starts with what sounds like an old Casio keyboard on a beat preset. The synth keys underneath swell but the song never really hits the peak that it feels like it promises. But it’s still decent.
“Despair” follows, and is one of the most hopeful sounding songs here, with a bright and sunny feel compared to some of the darker tones in the other songs. It’s actually a cheer up type song with the beautiful refrain “my sun is your sun”.
The album closer is a gorgeous song of pure devotion called “Wedding Song”. Lyrics like “With your name on my lips, the ages fall to bits”. It borders on sounding like a lost gem from The Cure’s Disintegration. I don’t know what more of a compliment I could give it. Karen O. has learned well from the school of Robert Smith (if that is in fact the influence here, but I’m betting that it is).
If you shuck the idea of buying a physical album, and like your music on bytes up in the clouds, you can get four extra tracks on the MP3 deluxe edition. First is the “NOLA Demo” of “Subway”. which feels unfinished without the atmosphere of the finished track, but is very gentle when stripped down. Then you get an acoustic version of “Wedding Song”. The song is given a very peaceful tranquil feel by recasting it this way. “Despair” is given the acoustic treatment also. The reverb is still used so imagine the song strummed acoustic in a large echoey church. Lastly is “Mosquito”, live at Area 51, or so it is labelled. This one sounds much like a rehearsal demo. Not bad at all but hardly essential. So I’m sure the die-hards will want the bonus tracks, but not having them won’t mean missing a big part of the experience either.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have impressed me quite a bit here. I first listened to this album on Spotify, half expecting to be bored, and thinking maybe this was a band I just wasn’t going to really get a taste for. In 2 days I went from first listen to needing to add this to my collection. There’s a mood this album evokes that feels unlike any other albums I’ve heard lately. It feels like a late night adventure soundtrack of some sort. I do believe it’s time now that I go visit the band’s past albums and see what started the fuss on the first place. Big thumbs up!
Check out some video from the album:
and check out the band’s entire Coachella performance this month: