Review Summary: A 5-song synthesis of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of old
If you went out in 2009 - it doesn't matter whether you went to a rock venue or a dancing - the chances of hearing "Heads Will Roll" through the speakers were probably pretty big. The most successful single from It's Blitz propelled the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into the conscience of the masses. A large part of the success of "Heads Will Roll" - and in turn It's Blitz - was that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs traded their signature guitar noise for a more elegant 80's synthpop sound.
Among the longtime fans, two camps were formed: one with people who loved the change and embraced it, and one with the people who hated it and longed after the energetic guitar riffs of old. To the latter folks, Is Is - the 5-track EP they released in 2007 - will probably be the best thing they've ever done.
It's the culmination of their previous works: it's got the energy, pace and noise of the early EPs and Fever To Tell but also the pop sensibilities of sophomore album Show Your Bones. And attentive listeners could even have predicted the synthpop makeover they would undergo two years later, as the synthesizer is already used to great effect on "Down Boy". But the songs on Is Is primarily depend on the wailing guitar of Nick Zinner, coupled with the blunt but functional drumming style of Brian Chase to overwhelm the listener.
No wait, scratch that and make that secondarily. Because the real attraction of the band are of course the vocals of Karen O. Karen may be the most iconic front woman in rock right now (aside from Beth Ditto). There are far prettier faces around, but none of those have the impact that Karen's voice has. Picture a prehistoric female caveman (a cavewoman?) chasing a wild boar or reindeer. That's meant as a compliment by the way. She applies her characteristic howls on highlights as "Rockers To Swallow" and "Down Boy", but on "10x10" she tones herself down. It's for the better, because although her performance is still pretty intense, the restraint on her voice complements nicely with the Sonic Youth-like guitar jam. With it, the EP ends on a rather weird, trippy note. In contrast, the middle track, "Kiss Kiss", is a straightforward dance rock anthem intended for the indie night clubs. Across the 5 songs here, the band displays great diversity in their songwriting and playing styles, which prevents things to come off as too samey - a trap many indie rock bands of the 2000's fell for.
Is Is will not convert people who dislike the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. However, the band has perfected their brand of indie noise on this EP. It's a peak in their sound evolution, which started with Show Your Bones. The revolution took place two years later with It's Blitz, but as it stands Is Is's 17-minute burst of energy still is the pinnacle of the band's discography.