The fact that the whole thing commences with a warbling synthesizer, is enough reason to realize that this is an electronically-infused album. But like fellow New Yorkers, TV on the Radio, what Yeah Yeah Yeahs are king/queen for is creating album after album with a completely new sound. Even their EPs have been able to take on a life of their own and are fully-formed exposés into this resolute band’s heart. Nothing much is different with their latest triumph, It’s Blitz!, a sprawling, eclectic set of dazzling new music.
Sometimes it comes in ever-so-obvious fashion like the sludgy impression of “Shame and Fortune”, whose grime and heavy bass give off a deeper, much more substantial sound. And sometimes it comes in subtle splashes, as in the “Maps”-like sounds of “Hysteric.” Tinkling keyboards and a syncopated drum pattern are supported before a slow chug of electronic atmospherics weigh in. A love song, Karen O sings about how “you suddenly complete me”, to the backdrop of Nick Zinner’s skillful guitar work.
Following in the footsteps of their much-maligned previous album, Show Your Bones, the trio of musicians were criticized for opening up and conveying a much lighter sound. And rather than beefing it up and making another dense Fever to Tell, they went a different route, the electronica route.
But this is still a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album at its very core. The piano-led composition that is “Runaway” is a nice touch and it gradually matures into one of the album’s many highlights. “Heads Will Roll” is a true to form, rocking stomper of the best kind. The music is somewhat tempered before a menacing guitar crescendos into a huge buildup of music; the payoff is paramount. It’s obvious that the band hasn’t lost anything in terms of hooks and riffs and with Karen O wailing away, the results are outstanding.
A compelling song, “Skeletons” is a thrill for its overall affect. Quiet and reserved, the music is scaled down to reveal a much softer side than before. This is preceded by a sweet pop affair in “Soft Shock.” Both are juxtaposed by their equal contributions of magic, joy and enigmatic music. The latter showcases Karen O’s voice in the best sense: she scats, playfully hums and sings her lyrics in such an adoring manner, it’s hard not to be sucked in by that.
The bookends on the album are what complete and cement it as the superb album it truly is. “Little Shadow” is a swirling ballad that echoes everything David Sitek is known for. The musicians are allowed to take over and Karen O sounds ever so haunting when she sings and hums. And to top it off, there is just a light haze of reverb layered on top for good measure. This contrasts the aforementioned “Zero” with its thumping drums and upbeat demeanor. This is where co-producer Nick Launay shows off his chops as a curator of electronica music. With a repertoire that features work with Talking Heads and Nick Cave, to name a few, the song pulses and jives to synths and Karen O’s magnetic voice.
It’s all of these affectations and convictions that make It’s Blitz! one of the year’s greatest albums. Make no qualms, it’s the kind of album that many should love and unfortunately, few will love to hate. Who knows if they’ll ever make anything as wild as Fever to Tell, but if they continue to grow and expand their sound, that’s all we can hope for. And when you have so many people paying attention to your every move, you have to be doing something right.