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Yeah Yeah Yeahs

+ {Karen O And The Kids} + {Karen O}

Always a stick-on to succeed in the indie/pop rock business, if fronted by a delicious femme fatale (DEBORAH HARRY, SIOUXSIE, Sharon Foo, et al), garage punks YEAH YEAH YEAHS seduced their testosterone-fuelled audience through the charms of South Korean-born, Karen O (aka Orzolek). Dubbed “The STROKES fave new band” (one of them wore a YEAH YEAH YEAHS badge while performing on an American chat-show), this 3-piece outfit didn’t need this cool introduction in the wake of NYC’s other trendy garage rockers, but it helped in the hype. If one could describe the sound of KO and her cohorts, it would most likely formulate around ROYAL TRUX’s rock-out sludge-ness and Polly Jean Harvey’s precise eroticism, mixed with gutsy garage-rock and slutty-chic.
Formed in the Big Apple in 2000 by the aforementioned Orzolek, a student from Ohio’s Oberlin College, she relocated to the city with fellow student, guitarist Nick Zinner (ex-Challenge Of The Future) and drummer Brian Chase. After a handful of support gigs to the likes of The WHITE STRIPES and BOSS HOG, the Yeahs delivered their `Master’ EP in 2001, a record issued on their own Shifty label and produced by Jerry Teel, himself a member of the ‘Hog. After touring in support to GIRLS AGAINST BOYS and JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION, a second EP arrived the following year on the Touch & Go imprint. Entitled `Machine’, it displayed Karen O’s raw, sexually-driven grind-house stompers. Harshly reminiscent of early BIKINI KILL, especially on screamers such as `Art Star’ and `Bang’, it seemed all worth the hype when the trio issued their debut album for Interscope: FEVER TO TELL (2003) {*8}.
Backed by UK hit singles, `Date With The Night’ and `Pin’, the no-wave funky garage of the YEAH YEAH YEAHS was a million miles away from the LOU REED-esque narcissism of The STROKES. Noisy and neurotic in its cut-and-paste new wave, pretty ballads gave way to passionate punk on the tracks, `Man’, the acerbic `Cold Light’ and further attendant hits, `Maps’ and `Y Control’. Karen duly took her newfound fame to live in L.A., where her vocals (on `Hello Tomorrow’) linked her up with producer Squeak E. Clean for a Spike Jonze-directed Nike sports commercial. Meanwhile, Zinner projected his ideas through the thrashing grind-core that was the one-off, “Head Wound City” band EP.
Much like their partners-in-ennui, The STROKES, the razor-sharp bicoastal hipsters YYYs mooched back in 2006 with a transatlantic Top 20 set, SHOW YOUR BONES {*7}, a Clean-produced record critically chided for its lack of polish and fulfilment. Kicking off with the unmistakably SIOUXSIE-esque falsetto frippery of `Gold Lion’ (another UK Top 20 single), the album found Karen O earthing some of that livewire spark, absorbing and assimilating both emotional and musical shock-tactics into a work of typically sophomoric reflection. When it worked – check the sing-a-long BLONDIE-meets-the MISSION vibe of `Dudley’, or the brittle consonants of `Phenomena’ (even if they’d been enunciated years earlier by LL COOL J) – it suggested that YEAH YEAH YEAHS hadn’t sighed their last sigh just yet.
Following on from an EP of re-vamps, `Is Is’ (2007), IT’S BLITZ! (2009) {*7} stripped away the crunching guitar sounds to expose layers of synths mushrooming within blissful episodes such as `Zero’, `Skeletons’, `Heads Will Roll’ and `Dragon Queen’. Pursuing the mirror-ball dance steps of BLONDIE some three decades back, producers Nick Launey and David Sitek managed to turn around the inevitability of a group now in total transition.
Opting only to augment in guest form for their moonlighting chanteuse, Zinner and Chase worked with KAREN O AND THE KIDS on Jonze’s motion picture soundtrack to 2009’s storybook, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE {*7}. The Kids (from side-project Native Korean Rock, one imagines) were also joined by LIARS’ Aaron Hemphill, DEERHUNTER’s Bradford Cox and DEAD WEATHER alumni Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence, while the family-friendly indie-folk of `All Is Love’, `Igloo’, `Capsize’ and `Animal’, showed us KAREN O could adapt her vocal range to almost any song – DANIEL JOHNSTON’s `Worried Shoes’, included.
Rock goddess or punk princess, and now married to long-time beau Barnaby Clay, Karen O and the YYYs reconvened for the full-throttled MOSQUITO (2013) {*8}. Less synths, and favouring streamlined instruments throughout, Karen and Co took the helter-skelter SIOUXSIE-meets-PJ HARVEY approach on cutting tracks like `Buried Alive’ (featuring Dr. Octagon), `Sacrilege’, `Slave’, `Area 52’ and the blood-sucking title track.
In 2019, having spread her dulcet tones alongside PARQUET COURTS on their collaborative “Milano” set of 2017 with film composer Daniele Luppi, KAREN O covered new ground alongside producer DANGER MOUSE (aka Brian Burton) on the multi-layered co-billed project, LUX PRIMA {*8}. Considered by many as a contender for album of the year, the Top 40 record brandished an ambitious amalgam of genres, kicking off with the eerie 4-part title-track suite (at 9 minutes) to the concluding `Nox Lumina’. Texturally sophisticated and stylish, the record’s high spots sprung from the Motown-inflected `Woman’ and the disco `Turn The Light’.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr2013-Jun2019

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