With their second LP, Show Your Bones, her versatility was understated, as was the sound of the band as a whole. She sang much more than she screamed, while the guitar and drum work of Nick Zinner and Brian Chase respectively was surrounded by the glossy production values Squeak E. Clean brought to the table.
Now, following up Show Your Bones with a look back rather than a jump forward, the band has released Is Is, a 5-song EP of tracks recorded between their debut, Fever to Tell, and its successor.
What this new release ultimately provides fans is compromise. If you preferred the seemingly half-cocked party girl demeanor Karen O presented on about 80% of Fever to Tell, it's here in much greater doses than it was on Show Your Bones. The same can be said of Zinner's aggressive guitar searing and Chase's military-punk drum patterns.
The production here is still of a higher quality than the debut, which fans of the latter LP will appreciate. But this time it's Nick Launay at the helm rather than Mr. Clean. The main difference between the two is Launay doesn't polish the song-stones down quite as far, letting a sense of spontaneity to come through that was missing from Show Your Bones. While Is Is is a far cry from a live album, or even any given album produced by Steve Albini, it does give off a sense of the energy that made the band so notable in the first place.
The songs themselves are quite solid, featuring their usual mix of singable melodies and blues-rock riffs. "Rockers to Swallow" leads things off with an attention-grabbing call and response between Nick's guitar, and Karen's repeated grunts of "Hey!" Meanwhile, the whole affair is presided over by Brian Chase's heavily-syncopated drum hits.
Another standout track is "Kiss Kiss," which features the chanteuse at her best: with a rich, full-bodied alto pouring out the lyrics as though it were all completely effortless.
Though lyrically, as always, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a mixed bag. The somewhat-titular track "Isis" makes a successful, yet passing, reference to the Egyptian goddess of the same name and her scatterbodied paramour. But in their normal fashion, the images rarely go anywhere or establish any greater metaphor. Of course it can all be seen as interpretive, but if you're low on patience it can come off as lazy.
But what Is Is, like most of the work in Yeah Yeah Yeahs' catalog, proves is that even the least-sensical lyric can become a singalong if the band delivers it with conviction. And with a voice like Karen O's, you can get away with singing about pretty much anything.