Sound On Sound: A shock to your soft side.
After kicking and screaming their way onto the indie-punk-pop scene in 2003 with the howling declaration that was Fever To Tell, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have developed musically in ways that most listeners likely did not predict. The raucous drumming by Brian Chase, distortion-laden grinding guitar by Nick Zinner and Karen O's passionate screech all pointed toward louder, neo-indie-punk success as the album opens loud, turns it up and then stays at eleven over the first 8 tracks. At track 9 on Fever To Tell the omen of Yeah Yeah Yeahs to come surfaces in "Maps" (First appeared here as part of Santa's Sad Song Sack). In the wake of all the clatter is a soft, mournful ballad evidencing not only Karen O's vocal strength (aside from screaming), but also the band's ability play a slower, calmer song and not have it sound at all out of place. "Maps" was easily the best (or second best) song on the whole album and it was also a window to the future coexistence of punk and ballad. Anger and lamentation.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' newest record It's Blitz! demonstrates the continued creative expansion of the ideal started with "Maps". Much less prevalent is the anthemic power-punk, which gives way to the pseudo-dance-vibe that first took greater hold on 2006's Show Your Bones. Don't get me wrong, they still rock, but it's a more casual, more refined style of rockin'. Gone is the "Hey, look at me" hollering. Instead, the songs deliberate, haunting at times, and brilliantly mixed and arranged. The album is spectacular. Wait. Spec-fucking-tacular! Wait. There just isn't a word to adequately capture how amazed, satisfied and elated I was to hear this project succeed from beginning to end. I do miss the louder bleating of Fever To Tell, but the maturity and elegance of It's Blitz! shines so brightly through incredible songs that the album has instantly become a favorite. I compel you to go out and get the Deluxe Edition of the album, which follows the original album with 4 gems: acoustic versions of the greatest songs on the record. Including one reminiscent of the great "Maps" in tone, but stronger, better... the Six-Million Dollar "Maps" we'll call it.
"Soft Shock" is track 3 on the record, and the first of the acoustic bonus tracks to grace the ear on the end of the disc. It hints at a complicated love that feels lost despite what may still remain of it. The message seems to be that often the shocks we experience in life are not violent, they're the soul shaking softer ones, the ones we feel through love. And yes, that's the best description I could come up with. As with "Maps," "Soft Shock" is not built on comprehensive lyrics. It's the chalk outline of a romance, both lost, but defined with shape. The song is linguistically impressionistic. The lyrics are puzzle pieces that fill in the border built by the music.
All in all, the track is thoughtfully rocky in its first iteration. Drums are light, but present, the vocals are more sing-less scream, and Karen O has a subtle despondency in her voice. She's breathy and vibrant, while simultaneously sounding cautious. Amazingly, she comes off as strong and fragile at once. The original version builds gradually from a synth-y opening to a powerful guitar-grinding crescendo. Karen O belts out "yeahs" and "oohs" with full-voiced passion. Really, it's a beautiful track. The acoustic version of "Soft Shock" is drum-light, calm, sparse, and noted by plucking staccato strings rather than guitar. The vocals are quiet, soft and smooth. The pace is slowed. The tone is hauntingly beautiful. It's more with less, and has a brilliant way of reminding the listener about all the ways love is shocking, austere, delicate, and scary. Love is won and lost in the quieter moments. I have fallen in love with the acoustic version.
Best lyrics: "Louder, lips speak louder/ Better back together/ Still it's a shock, shock/ To your soft side/ Summer moon/ Catch your shut eye"
"Skeletons" is also not to be underestimated or overlooked. Like I said, the album is amazing.
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