he Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a three piece garage rock outfit hailing from the Big Apple. Karen O takes on the vocal chores, grinding the last vestiges of a male rock singer archetype into the ground, while Nick Zinner and Brian Chase add the musical accompaniment (guitar and drums, respectively). While the group has, ostensibly, the same sort of set-up as the White Stripes, the sound owes much more to punk and post-punk than to the blues and classic rock. Zinner seems much more unafraid to rely on the use of effects to change the tone of his guitar to something far more exciting- and potentially more abrasive.
The group has, thus far, released two EPs which mine the same territory as their debut full length: capable punk rock with a slightly skuzzy, yet unmistakably pop edge. On the album’s opener, “Rich”, the opening sound is a looped synthetic melody that continues throughout the song at varying volumes. At the end of the first verse Karen O extends her ripped vocal cords to the limit- letting the wordless scream run out of steam before calmly invoking the chorus with a “Hey!” The effect is “I’m just getting started.” And the point is well taken, as the group rips through the first half of the record in short order. Each of the first five songs hold nearly the same tempo, riffing hard, Karen O alternately cooing and screaming, and with the beat solidly in place at all times. Its an effective opening blast- the group intimates that they are capable of doing this all night, in endless permutations.
And that’s when the album gets good. Instead of another blindingly fast permutation of “Rich”, we get “Pin”- a bouncy new wave number that uses a wordless chorus for a large portion of its two minutes. It is perhaps rock ‘n roll at its essence- full of energy and dynamism but without a clear purpose other than to incite dancing. The next song, “Cold Night”, is a slow moving song that sounds similar to something the White Stripes might do if Karen O was their singer. Showing their range among these two songs, the group barely hints at the direction that leads into the gem of this release, “Maps.”
Indescribable, except as the best rock song of 2003 so far, “Maps” is a perfect three and half minute pop song. Thunderous drums mix with a underlying intertwined guitar line and Karen O’s subdued vocal performance. The change is both a welcome and pleasant one. Her vocals, as the song goes on, change back into her more preferred affectation- offering an effective counterpoint.
After this song, the two closers are, honestly, of little significance. In “Maps”, the promise of this band is found and captured. The band’s excellence comes from their effective melding of elements: interesting and suitably anarchaic guitars, a charismatic female lead singer, and an unassuming timekeeper to maintain control. While their entrance into the public eye is not a surprise, due to the new rock revival, with Fever to Tell the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have proven that they may have what it takes to last far beyond any sort of fad.