New York City: New Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Lately, I’ve been thinking about New York City a lot. For a lot of reasons, but first and foremost because I was just there for a day. Really, it was less than 24 hours, but it still became every part of me. New York City has that ability to get under your skin. It breathes you in and spits you out.

Then I started thinking about bands from New York City. I was wondering about their larger than life image. Is it because they have a national city behind them? With national press junkets? Is it a subliminal message about being larger than life because New York itself is so? Bands from New York City who get together, start playing shows and start making records have an ability and agility about them. It’s a home town of eight and a half million people, not including outer boroughs (and the bridge and tunnel folks). There’s a kind of tenacity there. And a New York kind-of-cool that is incessant and unavoidable. But has that ‘New York City Cool’ always been there? Or was it bands past that put it there? Like The Velvets, the RAMONES, Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads and Blondie? You pretty much know what I’m talking about: those CBGB bands that started a new movement, maybe the first movement, of underground rock music in New York City.

I started thinking about this because of upcoming releases from a bunch of New York City bands. We just saw the fifth record from The Strokes, Comedown Machine, make its’ round on the blogosphere. And temptation has been calling with the new, third release from Upper West Siders, Vampire WeekendModern Vampires Of The City, due out May 14th on XL. And now there’s a new release from a band I have no relationship with, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Considered the ultimate cool and frontrunners for the rise of indie in the early 00’s, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a force to be reckoned with. They’re a jumping off point for NEW New York City bands.

Their new record is out April 16th by way of Interscope. Mosquito is the band’s fourth record and their first since 2009’s It’s Blitz!

In 2003, when Yeah Yeah Yeahs (or YYYs) first released Fever To Tell, it was the furtherest thing from my mind. Back then, my world still revolved around The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Which means I’m not embarrassed to say I just started listening to Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Because it’s never too late. Gracing the cover of this month’s SPIN, YYYs are about to be everywhere if they already aren’t. Their music is epic. Everything about this band is grand. Majestic, eclectic, bizarre, wonderful – whatever you want to call it, Yeah Yeah Yeahs know how to turn heads. And they’re about to turn heads with Mosquito.

Show Your Bones, their 2007 sophomore release, rocks hard just like their first, Fever To Tell. But Mosquito starts off slow. The groove starts to get in on the title track. You’ll see that there’s nothing more feverish than Karen O singing, “Moquitoes sing/Moquitoes cry/Moquitoes live/Moquitoes die/Moquitoes drink/most anything/whatevers left/Moquitoes scream/ I’ll suck your blood.” She sings it like she’s sucked blood before. [Below.] But as a YYYs record, it’s paced differently. Taking longer to build up and slow down, Mosquito doesn’t sound like something they’ve done before. Which, I think, is what they wanted.

Almost everyone I know knows YYYs. I hear people talk about them. They’re everywhere. (I’m definitely late to the game on this one.) Having never really listened to them, I am blow away at how simply terrific their music is. That being said, if you’re bored, listen to this band. They will remind you – if you need reminding – that new music is out there. And it’s better than great. Yeah Yeah Yeahs used to open for The White Stripes, they’ve supported Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Bjork and their New York friends (and ours) The Strokes. They have chops all over the board. Karen O might be one of the greatest front-women rock will ever see, not just because of the colors she wears and the colors of her hair. A powerful vocalist and songwriter, she pushes the band forward. Along with guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase, they’re a trio that compliments itself.

If you don’t believe me, listen to “These Paths” from the new record [below]. It’s a testament to what this band can do.

It’s curious to ask why something is great. Why is this music great and why is this record better than the others? Is it where they come from? Or is it what it sounds like? Or is it both? With YYYs, I don’t feel the need to ask why their music is great. Just by listening to their records you’ll know why. But it is curious that they primarily write and record their songs outside of New York City. (They wrote most of Mosquito in New Orleans.) In fact, Karen O just moved back to New York having lived in Los Angeles for years. And even at that, they’re a New York Band. And they’ll always be associated that way.

A sort of second coming to New York City rock and roll, the early 00’s (we call them the aughts?) was a special time for indie music in New York City. And the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a big part of that. !!! (pronounced “Chick Chick Chick”) were there, so  was LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture. (They’re one of the most underrated dance punk bands, listen to Pieces Of The People We Love if you haven’t. It will make you feel good all over.) Interpol made Turn On The Bright Lights and we also have the Brooklyn likes of TV On The Radio. Did these bands have something to live up to? Of the millions – I’m assuming, OK maybe hundreds – of bands that are in New York City and the handful that become nationally and internationally popular, Yeah Yeah Yeahs stand out from the crowd. There isn’t really any other band that sounds like them. And, certainly, no one else has Karen O’s fashion sense. In fact, each of these New York bands has a unique sound. (Can you think of another band that sounds like Vampire Weekend?) Is it the city that does that to them? Because of the competition in New York, do they push the limit before they know where it is? Is it the city streets and the general understanding that nothing can shock New York? Will we ever know?

maybe this album art can shock New York

maybe this album art can shock New York

Yeah Yeah Yeahs challenge themselves on every front. It comes naturally to them. On Mosquito, they sound like a whole new Yeah Yeah Yeahs: it’s a great record, seasoned with life and ready for action.