At the turn of the twenty-first century, the New York City music scene floated in a surfaceless orbit of samplers, shoegazers, and delay pedals. The city's guitars lay choked by a digital fog, or else they lay dustily forgotten. Then, in 2002, an unbridled five-song EP by an unknown band brought noise, sex, passion, and mayhem back to the stage and to the stereo. The band's name evoked the kid who knows that whoever's in charge is full of shit -- "yeah, yeah, yeah" -- but it also rang with the affirmation of pure rock and roll: Fuck yeah! The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first full-length album, Fever to Tell, was simultaneously filthy, infectious, sloppy, and brilliant. You could dance to it, and you could probably die to it. "Maps" was nominated for a Grammy, and the record went gold in the UK.
It would have been easy enough to record another spastic, live-sounding garage album after the success of Fever, but their next full-length, 2007's Show Your Bones, added acoustic guitar and more serious compositions that picked up on the direction suggested by a song like "Maps." Rolling Stone called the record a "textural triumph," and the group honed their legendary stage performance -- one cannot understand the Yeah Yeah Yeahs without seeing Karen O writhing and thriving onstage. A handful of great songs that didn't make it onto Bones became tour staples (and fan favorites), and the band sat down with the celebrated PiL/Slits/Gang of Four producer Nick Launay to record 2007's EP Is Is.
2009's It's Blitz signaled both a glance backward and a step forward for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Zinner's vintage Arp—the same model used on records by The Cars, Joy Division, and Kraftwerk—contributed atmospheric washes ("Skeletons"), disco wiggles ("Dance till you're dead!" Karen sings on "Heads Will Roll"), and New Wave melodrama ("Soft Shock"). "We've got a death grip on the adolescent way of feeling things," O said. "That's something I'll never be able to shake in the music I write. It's almost feels like a John Hughes 80s movie." But acknowledging the past in this way doesn't sound make for a nostalgic-sounding album. "I think there's a cool stability reflected in this record," Brian Chase says. "It reflects our transformation, and how we've developed as people."
"We hit a low," says O about the period after the band wrapped-up touring It's Blitz. "The 10-year mark felt like an end of an era, and that has psychological implications." The solution, when heading into the studio with Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner to make their fourth studio album, wasn't to indulge in despair, but to fight it with levity. She says the new album, Mosquito, (out April 16, 2013) is their most lighthearted work yet. Largely produced once again by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and Nick Launay, it also features a track helmed by James Murphy and featuring outré-rap originator Kool Keith. It's also a return to the band's raw sonic roots, recorded at a low-budget studio in downtown Manhattan. Maybe it takes 10 years for old sounds to feel fresh again. [Pitchfork 1/14/13]