Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Is Is EP
ishnets, beer baths, and basslessness aside, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' most primitive aspect has always been Karen O's lyrics. She writes mantras: “you're something like a phenomenon”; “we read it for three days”; “they don't love you like I love you.” Even “as a fuck, son, you suck,” her first and most famous chorus, bore more than a whiff of incantation. This is important: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs survived the hype in 2002 because what was taken as a gimmick—Nick Zinner and Brian Chase's sloppy primitivism, Karen O's sloppier—was more fully understood than it needed to be to make front pages. The press release for the Is Is EP, which talks about garbage and trash and trashy garbage with tongue-in-cheek luridness, is on to something. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs don't simply revel in base instincts but understand them; their songs, dark circular things with a command of the occult, are like sex scenes in Norman Mailer novels.
Is Is, comprising material written between debut LP Fever to Tell and the underrated Show Your Bones, contains five songs and five mantras. The five mantras are “down boy,” “everywhere kiss me,” “if they are still up high, well, throw them to the sea,” “out of my mind,” and “a da da da waaaaaaaaaaaa.” “Everywhere kiss me,” the repeated chorus of “Kiss Kiss,” is a little E.E. Cummings, but beyond that these lines are about little but phrasing, timbre, and repetition, which is why the best one is the last one. It's screamed several times throughout “Rockers to Swallow,” the first track here and the one grown most directly from Fever to Tell, whose trashed-plastic stew sounded better on the YYYs' first EP and sounds better again here. The hook is fantastic, but the track lacks the mystic dynamism of Show Your Bones-era material, which is represented here by “Down Boy,” a chiming, cooing spiral of a song that's easily the record's centerpiece.
We've heard most of these songs before, live and on the band's 2004 DVD Tell Me What Rockers To Swallow, which means that speculation on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' future based on this record is pointless. Is Is works better to remind us of their skill with the EP form, which before Show Your Bones shed its filler with repeated listens looked like this band's niche. Is Is is over in eighteen minutes, not one is wasted, and some car rides (and sexual encounters) aren't going to last any longer. As a soundtrack for such endeavors it's unimpeachable, and afterwards you may be surprised all over again at the way this band exceeds expectations: surprised that Nick Zinner continues to spit arcane streamers of noise when he could be part of a movement by banging two chords; that Brian Chase continues to stutter strangely at the edges of descending rhythms when he could be Meg White; and, best of all, that Karen O continues to snarl and coo and spit her mantras when she could just talk about your dick.