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Album review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs's 'It's Blitz!'

March 30, 2009 |  5:04 pm

Yeah_yeah_yeahs_240 "Sometimes I think I'm bigger than the sound," sang Karen O on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' last album, 2006's "Show Your Bones." Well, now we know she is: On "It's Blitz!," O leads her bandmates in a daring reinvention of the group's music, venturing way beyond the strictures of New York revival rock into something artier, prettier and far more profound.

The first change you notice here is the absence of Nick Zinner's buzz-saw guitar, which did as much to establish the YYY sound as did O's Budweiser-banshee wail. The singer convinced Zinner to trade his beloved six-string for a synthesizer, and that gives these songs a new future-pop sheen (honed in part by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, who co-produced): "Skeletons" glides atop a bed of percolating Morse-code keyboard blips, and the insistent electro-funk throb in "Soft Shock" recalls classic New Order.

Even when Zinner goes back to the guitar, his playing shares little with the bare-bones garage-punk attack of yore. In "Dull Life," for example, he mirrors O's vocal melody with computer-like precision, rather than spraying noise in every available direction as he used to do.

Throughout the album, drummer Brian Chase drives the music with heightened purpose, providing a sense of destination the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have never seemed especially interested in. They come deliciously close to sounding like a straight-up disco band in "Dragon Queen," which could be Chic as fronted by Debbie Harry.

Yet "It's Blitz!" isn't just about streamlining and sophistication. These songs contain O's most expressive singing yet, and the tension between her vocal performances and the band's playing results in music richer in emotion than anything the trio has done since "Maps," its breakout hit from 2003. In such cuts as "Runaway" and "Hysteric" -- where O sings, "You suddenly complete me," over a gorgeous wash of neo-shoegaze sonics -- you're not even sure what feeling the song is producing. Hopeful anxiety? Forlorn excitement? Triumphant melancholy?

The only way to decide is to keep listening.

-- Mikael Wood

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
"It's Blitz!"
(DGC/Interscope)
Three and a half stars

Albums are rated on a scale of one to four stars.

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