Sound — 7
Let's face it, we love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs because of Karen O. I don't mean to denigrate the rest of the band in the least; Brian Chase is, I believe, the best drummer since Ginger Baker and Nick Zinner stands with Tom Morello as the two most creative guitarists out there, but Karen O is the clear star of the band. The same holds true of Is Is. Chase's drumming, while still good, lacks the complexity we're used to from their two albums. Zinner's guitar is much like that of "Fever to Tell," and he got a chance to show off his synth work, and he doesn't disappoint. But O still rules. While none of the vocals have the soul of "Maps" or the primal fury of "Bang," she still dominates every track. The musical styling of this album falls somewhere in between "Fever to Tell" and "Show Your Bones," which makes sense, the songs were written on the support tour for "Fever" in 2004, and recorded in 2007, after "Bones." The song structure follows "Fever" more closely, the abstract lyrics, the guitar playing tones more than chords, an overall grittiness of construction, though they are more polished than the tracks on "Fever." The recording, though, has the slickness of "Bones," and this leads to the one problem I found with the album: a clashing of the songs with the way they were recorded. The grittiness of the songs, to me at least, demands some grittiness in the recording. "Fever" had a harsh sound to go along with harsh songs, and "Bones" was slick and professional, which fit perfectly with the more mature songs. But "Is Is" tries to meld song grittiness with recording slickness, which was slightly disconcerting.
Lyrics — 9
The Yeahs have never been a band to turn to for accessible lyrics, and "Is Is" continues their fine tradition of cryptic metaphors. Which is not to say, though, that the lyrics are not compelling. The standout is "Down Boy," whose arcane but hugely poetic lyrics are perfectly accompanied by a haunting melody and synth; "I'll stand kind of pushed, kind of bent, on that heavy land, I'll stand for the sake of my friend, I will see him there." I've no idea what most of the songs are about, but that doesn't slow me at all.
Overall Impression — 8
One of the band's strong points has been their flawless taste in cover art. Like the lyrics of the record, the cover art is a vague, obscure, shiny picture of something, but we can't quite tell what. It fits with the dark, hypnotic sound of the record. My one major problem with this EP is that the song "Sealings" was not included. The record is songs the band has been playing live for years but never recorded, and I think that "Sealings" is the best of these, but it's not on the record. As much as I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I must say that this record ranks below both full-length albums and their self-titled EP. Which is not to say that the record is not among the best music around today, but it just doesn't quite stand up to their previous work. I'm holding the band to a very high standard, but only because we've heard them exceed it with both the brilliant "Fever to Tell" and the equally brilliant "Show Your Bones." I'd buy "Is Is" again in a heartbeat, but not without the feeling that we're not seeing the band at their best.