Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Coachella 2009
Photo: Katie Stratton/Getty Images
'It's Blitz!' At 10: How The Dancefloor Classic Marked A New Era For The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
In March 2009, New York garage-punk heroes Yeah Yeah Yeahs shared their highly anticipated third studio album, It's Blitz!, with the world. Dropped a month ahead of its original release date (due to a then-all-too-frequent torrent site leak), the album showcased the band's newly electronic-tinged, synth-enhanced sound, evoking a new sonic direction, but not one that rendered them unrecognizable.
The LP and its unforgettable second single, "Heads Will Roll," firmly placed frontwoman Karen O and bandmates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase as not only one of the bands to revitalize NYC's punk scene a decade earlier, but as an act capable of evolving out of it.
The album also earned the YYYs their third nomination—their first two LPs also earned category nods—for Best Alternative Music Album at the 52nd GRAMMY Awards. They were still, and will always be a rock group, but their shinier sound gave their music a new home under disco balls far and wide.
Initially forming in New York City in the early '00s, the trio, alongside contemporaries like LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes and Interpol, ultimately played an important role in Manhattan's reemergence as a rock 'n' roll incubator. Their debut album, Fever To Tell, arrived in 2003, and Show Your Bones followed in 2006. By the time It's Blitz! came along three years later, the YYYs' third record allowed them to continue their leading role as sound pioneers in the alternative music space. The album embedded them deeply into the conscious of both alt-rock and alt-electronic spaces, with, as Stereogum accurately called, "dance music that had deep roots in a community of misfits."
2009 ended up being a big year in a lot of ways for the group, as they earned even widespread recognition and praise, performing at major festivals across the globe, including Coachella, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury.
Showcasing their well-loved rock loudness in what many music critics lauded as a more polished package, It's Blitz! utilized synths in a new way for the band, resulting in glittering '70s disco and '80s glam-punk sounds on louder tracks like "Zero," "Dragon Queen" and "Heads Will Roll." This was further balanced out by the relatively quieter, slower-paced tracks, like the album's third and final single, "Skeletons," a powerful slow burn that echoed their 2003 breakout single, "Maps."
With "Skeletons," as well as the closing track "Little Shadow," Karen O's yelping voice shone but did not overshadow her anxious, self-reflective lyrics, which revealed a conversation with her dark side: "Patience, shadow / For all your sight, there's no sight to see. / Little shadow, little shadow / To the night, will you follow me?" That just goes to show: It doesn't always matter how successful you become: No one is immune to uncertainty about the future.
In the video for "Zero" Karen sings, "You're never so far gone / so get your leather on" as she puts on her now-iconic studded leather moto jacket. This jacket, complete with "KO" emblazoned on the back, became an indelible part of her instantly recognizable fashion sense and was one of the many pieces designed by stylist Christian Joy, whose career arguably took off by exclusively designing costumes for Karen O. In the video she dances through the streets—and on top of a car—in San Francisco, Calif. until she meets her bandmates to play in an alley and a corner store. It is a simple concept, but feels big and fun, not unlike the album as a whole.
"It's one of the simplest videos we've done—a lot of me walking around and joining up with the guys here and there. But I'm trying to live out a rock star fantasy of what I'd want to look and act like with this record, things I've always secretly been smacking my lips about," Karen O told Pitchfork at the time.
"What was really important in the process of making this record was that we made them in a really conventional, organic way at first. We had no idea that this was going to turn into more of an electronic-sounding record in the beginning. What I like least about electronic music is that there's often an emotional detachment, so it was really important for me to avoid that," she continued.
Both guitarist Zinner and drummer Chase adapted to their new sound in the studio, with Zinner teaching himself the keyboard/piano and Chase creating different beats on the drums to chop up into different sounds on the album. The group spent several months at Sonic Ranch in Texas with their longtime producer, TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek, who also worked on their first two albums.
They also brought on Nick Launay for production for the first time, who explained his and Sitek's complementary work styles in a 2009 interview, saying, "We have very different approaches to making records. Dave is very good with electronic stuff, that's his thing. He's very quick at working with sequencing and electronic elements, whereas my strength is more in emotion and organic stuff. I think the record works really well because they both complement each other and rub against each other in a way that makes it very interesting. There's a rebellious nature to that record, and there's also a lot of beauty."
"I feel like we've been trying to write a dance song that we love since the first EP, but we've never succeeded," Karen O told Clash Music in August 2009. "I think one of the big sentiments that has not changed whatsoever is that we want to make a raucous, noisy, emotionally cathartic sound. We were living in New York at a time when people stood there with their arms crossed in the audience and just felt really indifferent or ambivalent about music."
At the time, "Heads Will Roll" resonated with a diverse set of listeners: the longstanding punk lovers, the indie-rock die-hards, the house music heads, the '80s pop nostalgia crew, the disco-lovers and lots of people in between.
Remixes of the song were endless, beginning with Canadian DJ/Producer A-Trak's official remix, which came shortly after the song was released as a single in June 2009. More followed, along with a remix EP as well as unauthorized ones, including one six years later in 2015, where a SoundCloud user JVH-C sped up the song and looped the "dance 'til you're dead" lyrics. While this remix doesn't do justice to the actual song, it became "internet-famous" in the meme world and, along with placements of various versions of the song on TV shows (including "Glee"), video games and movies, kept the song relevant long after its late '00s peak.
Commenting on how It's Blitz! reflected the YYYs' garage-rock past and experimental future, Karen O said it best: "It sounds like it's going to be our most punk record—it's punk in spirit, at least. There's definitely more 'bliss' for me on there than 'blitz,' but with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs there's always got to be that 'tz' at the end. Otherwise, it doesn't feel like us."