I caught a glimpse of Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing Stubbs in Austin in the fall semester of 2006 from the top of a hill that would later be an overpriced apartment building. While my near-sightedness barred me from seeing Karen O’s face, the fractals of light that shined and the reverb from the sound system was all I needed to feel some type of way. Minutes before that, a pretty girl I had known from high school caroused by telling me she had just left the show early and I should try to check it out. The 30 or so seconds I soaked in was enough for me to go home and download a song off their debut album, Fever to Tell, that wasn’t the ubiquitous “Maps.” Shortly after, I ordered the 2003 album and instantly fell in love with it. As we approach April 29, the fifteenth anniversary of its release, I’m making the song I downloaded that night, “Y Control,” today’s SOTD, available on Spotify and Apple Music or in the music video below:
Before “hipster” became a word old people used to talk down to young people who did things they couldn’t comprehend and before Williamsburg was synonymous with entitled bohemian rich kids, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were at the precipice of New York’s budding indie rock culture. Fever to Tell combines elements of garage rock, dance and punk while maintaining a core that is arguably the closest we’ve gotten to contemporary blues. They managed to achieve this amalgam of sound without a bassist. Whereas their first single “Maps” plays off as a ballad of sorts with a hook that destroys your soul in all its desperation and raw emotion, “Y Control” is a hybrid of sorts – eliciting the sentimentality of a ballad with the discordant instrumentation reminiscent of early Stooges work.
Nick Zinner’s guitar work, in particular, has this wall of fuzz that sounds like gargled static fat in sound and bombastic in nature. This guitar sound kicks off the song following a brief echoey static intro that feels like the waviness of the outro of Pixies “Where is My Mind?” It’s dirty and beautiful all at the same time. Brian Chase’s drumming add a frenetic element to the song that makes it somewhat danceable in all its somberness. The syncopation is top-notch and explodes with emotion as Karen O, more reserved than she would be on songs like “Tick” and “Rich,” croons along. Her words prance from syllable to syllable with a solemn earnestness that is strangely uplifting. To borrow a line from a sitcom that debuted around the same time, it’s hauntingly beautiful.
It’s a perfect song from a perfect album. While the band has reached greater success, fifteen years later Fever to Tell is still iconic. Not only did it help shape the current state of indie rock, but it still provokes the same emotions now as it did the first time you heard it.
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