Rock & roll, LOUD and raw

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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My tastes in a lot of things trend toward rough edges and a raw, unpolished, unfinished quality. Maybe that’s why I find this self-titled, five-song EP by the New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs so much more appealing than their more polished, more commercial recent album Show Your Bones.

It’s not that this 2002 release sounds low-fi or underproduced in its production values. It’s the music itself, both the lyrics and the garage-tinged sound. Stripped down and heavy on distortion, the music masks a satisfying complexity at times that keeps it from being repetitive. And Karen O’s vocals go from sweet pop to haunting to full out screaming, on a dime. Dark, sexy and smartass, their music has an over-the-top attitude that makes the best rock & roll feel dangerous and makes you feel cooler just listening to it.

I saw them touring pre-record deal, when this EP was all they had to hawk. It was an amazing show, constantly dancing on the edge of flying out of control as Karen O and guitarist Nick Zinner careened around the postage stamp stage of the Fireside Bowl. There’s a knowing quality to the over-the-topness, and the audience is in on it. But you don’t care, because everyone is having such a sweaty, LOUD good time—and because the band is delivering killer lyrics like this, from Mystery Girl:

The girl hit hard like a barracuda, baby,
She floated on air like the crest of a wave.
She was a primal institution, she was a danger to herself.
A night of lovin’ by the coldhearted.
Take a deep breath because we just started.

When Show Your Bones came out in 2006, I heard a track on the radio that felt like the early stuff and bought the CD on the strength of that track. It’s good solid music, an evolution from where they started into something that could bring broader commercial success for the group. But it’s too polished for my taste—especially when I’ve heard just how wonderfully unpolished they can be.

A little side note on walking the walk: About the time of this EP, various record companies got into a major bidding war to sign the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, going to obscene lengths to court them. I remember reading in New York magazine about some record exec picking up a £1,600 bar tab after a night of drinking in some London club.

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