Old School Reviews: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs E.P./Machine E.P.

21 07 2007

by mr. travis

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - S/T EP Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Machine EP

Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album: S/T E.P.; Machine E.P.
Label: Shifty; Touch & Go
Release Dates: July 2001, Nov. 2002

In 2001, the music scene shifted from the faux tough guy posturing of rap-metal stalwarts such as Limp Bizkit to an older type sound in the wave of garage rock bands being led by the Strokes, who came onto the scene with their debut album Is This It?, quickly becoming media darlings in the music press, unleashing a torrent of similar sounding bands with very few of them containing any sort of staying power. While the Strokes took the basic blueprint of garage legends the Velvet Underground and diluted it for a radio friendly audience, there were others that came out of the scene who kept with the rawness of the garage scene while managing to attract media and label attention.

Such was the tale of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs who burst onto the scene with their self-titled E.P. in July of 2001. Consisting of lead singer Karen O., guitarist Nicholas Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase, their five song instantly set the band apart for not pulling their punches. In fact, it starts out with the song “Bang” in which O. lets the listener know right where she’s coming from with her breathy vocals whispering “the bigger, the better” before gleefully launching into the chorus “as a fuck son, you suck.” One could almost see her skipping around her horrible lover as she makes fun at his own inability to please.

The band itself is tightly connected, with Chase’s drums keeping everything status quo, while Zinner stays with him as the band’s rhythm. But, there’s no need to make anything complex, the duo do just fine with what they have, allowing them to come up with interesting arrangements for Karen O. to sing her way through. The third song on the E.P. “Art Star” find the band switching from bouncy art rock to screaming hardcore all within a 2 minute span. Few bands are able to pull off such a feat, let alone in less than 120 seconds, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs manage to do so without looking foolish.

The final two songs are the best of the E.P. signaling the direction the band would take with their next E.P. and subsequent album, Fever to Tell. “Miles Away” is one of their best songs, starting with a slight stuttering guitar rhythm eventually quickening to a punk attack similar to the band X. The finale, “Our Time” in a way is the band’s manifesto, letting the listener know that it’s their time to make it, their time to be hated.

An E.P. is a difficult thing to create, especially in this market. Usually they are slight listens, ones that come and go quickly serving as an appetizer for whatever comes next. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs managed to produce a record that is as good as most debut albums, one that even stands up to their full lengths upon close speculation. If there is one complaint (and this more of an overall criticism of their discography, not this specific work), is that they would never again be this raw. While this is expected, especially for a band that soon found themselves as one of the best in a media darling scene, the quickness their production values changed was somewhat shocking.

For their follow up two song E.P. Machine, the band once again chooses to begin with the breathy sound of Karen O.’s voice before going into a sound that appears like a much fuller band. They still retain the three piece ideal, but it’s obvious where their ambitions are: They want to be larger than life.

Which is fine on a full length. As would be seen on their debut L.P. Fever to Tell, the new sound works when there is room to stretch out. But, on Machine the sound is too limited for only two songs. Part of this could be because the band was still feeling out how to manage the new production. The other part could be that the two songs are nowhere near as strong as any of the ones contained on their debut, though “Graveyard” is a fun romp through a Joan Jett type tune.

To look back now on the band on their formative years is to see one that was not afraid to go the distance, both in their sound and in the way their frontwoman Karen O. presented herself. Not afraid of taboo subjects in her lyrics nor in how she presented her self on stage, Karen O. managed to put the music world on notice instantly that she would be one of the premiere stage presences in modern rock.

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