It’s been a fun ride to be a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan over the years. Although the trio of Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase have formed an identity that’s hard to mistake for anything else, the band has tweaked and scrambled its own three-pillar foundation by experimenting with different instruments, song structure and arrangements. The result is four decidedly different full-lengths and a handful of EPs to satisfy fans between albums.
Here are our 10 favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks, including the infectious single from the band’s latest album Mosquito, released today.
The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s self-titled EP might have set the stage for what they’d become on their debut, Fever to Tell, but “Art Star” was the outlying track that proved a lurking, yet-to-be-seen quirkiness—and how they willing the trio was to hop to polarized ends of the musical spectrum. The track’s childishly bouncy intro is fun enough to draw an audience, only to send many covering their ears with Karen O’s tastefully painful chorus howls. It’s a band grabbing pop sensibility and twisting its arm until it sings the song they want to hear.
What better way to wind down the band’s thunderous debut LP than with a track that manages to put their identity under a microscope? We get Zinner looping and winding his guitar parts under Karen O’s now-lulled meditations on control, the band toeing a line between garage ferociousness and honest introspection. It’s moody but accessible, familiar but unpredictable—A road map for how the band’s catalog will unfurl for years to come.
Near Show Your Bones’ mid-point, we’re treated to a fairly straightforward, jangly guitar-led jaunt informed by The Smiths and R.E.M. But Karen O takes the blank canvas and splatters her personality all over the thing by perfectly cracking at all the right moments or dragging out and slurring all the oddest vowels. But Zinner’s simplicity at the beginning is no mistake; He makes his big entrance near the 1:30 mark, ripping into some over-stacked chords that make you rethink what’s possible from a bass-less three-piece.
If you picked up Fever to Tell after only hearing “Maps” on the radio, the album opener “Rich” had the potential to be a blindsided, garage grease-stained fist to the kisser. Here, our dewey-eyed poet is as sentimental as Donald Trump on a bad day, and cohorts Zinner and Chase unapologetically join the cause, only letting up for Zinner’s ringing, harmonic guitar part. It’s an abrupt introduction for fans who got all weepy-eyed over “Maps,” and a welcome invitation for the softies to just rip the single and move on.
It makes sense “10×10” didn’t make it on any of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ LPs. Released on the IS IS EP in 2007, the pithy near-four-minute track covers enough ground to feel plenty longer, and a key candidate to wrap up the band’s small offering that year. Karen O is at her most obscure, heightening the track’s initial discomfort with witch hunt-worthy descriptions like “Three males pounded on the front door, start a few fires and have my way.”
After the mucky, sloppy beauty of Fever to Tell, it was a surprise to hear Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ follow-up, Show Your Bones, open with a polished acoustic guitar and crisp, snappy drums. Between Zinner’s wiry guitar leads and Karen O’s sugar-packed oohs, Show Your Bones’ opener “Gold Lion” felt immediately satisfying with plenty of extra goodies to sort through later. With additional member David Pajo taking on acoustic duty live, this song takes on an explosive, wild quality you don’t get from the studio.
For the first Mosquito single, Yeah Yeah Yeahs come on strong with the groove but aren’t ashamed to get a li’l creepy in tone. Instrumentally, this is the fullest the Yeah Yeahs have ever sounded. With a punchy bass leading the way, Zinner cooks up some tasty six-string servings while Karen O spins a minimalist yarn about forbidden love. If it didn’t sound heavy-handed enough, we forgot to mention the song’s massive gospel choir, which upgrades “Sacrilege” from a slow-burning threat to a five-alarm inferno.
It’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song that Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and Britney are still boggled they didn’t think of first. Here we see the band at their most commercially accessible while still clutching at some of their grit- Zinner’s pointed guitars are muffled to a dull roar behind Chase’s super-thumpy, metallic beats. But most obviously, Karen O and Co. ensured they’d be echoing “Off with your head, dance ‘til you’re dead” through strobing dance clubs for decades.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been steady in furthering their sound on every album, and It’s Blitz! single (and opener) “Zero” managed to be as jarring as it was hooky, gluing pulsing synths and sampled drums to Karen O’s breathy yelps. Those who wanted to bash the new direction and assortment of instruments had their chance, but most year-end lists proved how wrong they were.
When it comes to “Maps,” your age, sex, relationship background, musical preference, opinion on Karen O’s voice or thoughts on a bass-less garage-rock trio didn’t matter. If you didn’t feel anything by the time Zinner ripped into his triumphant, octaved guitars or Karen O confided “They don’t love you like I love you,” you might not have a beating heart.