When Yeah Yeah Yeahs came roaring out of the New York alt-rock scene at the start of the ’00s, they sounded like they were competing to be NYC’s loudest, shriekiest band. But those harder edges quickly softened, perhaps because the YYYs realized that frontwoman Karen O could be freaky even when singing the tenderest ballad. Onstage, especially, Karen O contorts herself, kicks over equipment, and tugs at her bizarre costumes, all while squinting and grinning like some kind of disoriented extraterrestrial. She’s never less than astonishing.
There’s very little of the old Yeah Yeah Yeahs skronk on the band’s third LP, It’s Blitz!, but the record still sounds not of this Earth. Relying heavily on synthesizers and syncopated rhythms, It’s Blitz! forwards a futurist agenda. Sink deep into the Berlin-like dance-pop of “Heads Will Roll” or the spacey balladry of “Skeletons,” and it’s not too hard to picture the neon cityscapes of a forbidding dystopia. Or listen to the frenzied “Dull Life” or the softly resigned “Hysteric,” where that civilization seems to be in the midst of disintegrating.
The main problem with It’s Blitz! is that the band’s kind of retreat to kicky electroclash feels a little late to the party. Too many other musicians have gone to this particular well over the past half-decade, and few of them had a Karen O at their disposal. Still, these synth-driven pop songs aren’t really much different from Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ guitar-driven ones. The band still sticks to stunted riffs, topped by Karen O’s repetitive yelping. And like earlier YYYs songs, these build in intensity, with Karen O holding back as long as she can before erupting in a howl halfway between alien rage and raw human passion. This album may be just a sketchy blueprint, but a tour should be something to see.