It was around this time two years ago when the idea of dumping my very neglected old music blog in favour of starting a new one which I could neglect just the same first crossed my mind. The time of year, tellingly, is my annual pre-exam study leave, during which I am sitting around listening to music and looking for ways to procrastinate even more so than is normal. Two years ago, I decided that the raw intensity of Le Tigre’s eponymous album was perfect study music, finding something quite motivational in the raucous yet driven songs. As I embark once more into exam season, my ability to concentrate on one topic of study for a prolonged period of time is wavering more than ever, but as the riotgrrl music before made me realise, channelling stress and rage into work can be a fairly efficient way of going about these things – hence, my rediscovery of the Is Is EP by Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone down pretty nicely as regards imploring myself to put my head down and work.
Released back in 2007, this early EP is a bit different from the poppier, synth-tinged era of It’s Blitz (which love, but for slightly different reasons). This EP is rock music: brazen, gut-wrenching, turbulent, sexually-charged, fantastic rock music. Karen O screeches and sneers, one minute all shrugging nonchalance in her New York cool sprechgesang, the next bold and impassioned in her teasing, seductive, feral growls of melodies. The music of Zinner and Chase swells around her, sometimes washing her along into intricate, blazing crescendoes and sometimes ebbing into sparser yet just as provocative and fervent shuffles of instrumentation.
Incredible opener ‘Rockers to Swallow’ is all raw, vigorous intensity with threatening, commandeering, throatiness from O and spiralling, gritty yet somehow almost-psychedelic guitar and chaotic yet somehow controlled drumming. ‘Down Boy’ starts as a gentler, more romantic sounding number, with Zinner’s sweet, twinkling keyboards ushering in smooth percussion and soft vocals from O – that is, for around forty-five seconds, before things get intense all over again in the chorus and, no, she’s not yelling quite so much anymore, but O is still a domineering force, all coy but in control as she sings, (and you can almost hear her smiling), “Down boy, down” atop of the more tumultuous guitars. ‘Kiss Kiss’ is a glitchy song full of frantic, lusty, propulsive palpitations, while ‘Isis’ swirls and snarls with a strangely dissonant, quasi-Middle Eastern vibe. The final track ’10 X 10′ with the juddering, potent instrumentation and O’s repeated girlish “ah-ah”s, contrasting with her low, unforgiving growl throughout the rest of the song perhaps best surmises the EP – it can have moments of nonchalant, coy femininity, certainly, but the Is Is EP is primarily angry, turbulent and, well, empowered sexiness.
I am detracting from it massively to say that it is good background study music, because it is a fantastic rock EP (with the flaw that befalls all good EPs of being too short and leaving you wanting)… but it works pretty well in that exam time capacity all the same.
You can buy the Is Is EP here. If you’re into your Lou Reed and your Patti Smith, you will love this as much as I do.