It's tempting to bill the YYYs as "the White Stripes if the girl sang," yet such hypothetical reconfigurations don't account for vocalist Karen O's singular presence. She whispers Bang, bang, bang/The bigger, the better, then repeats the phrase during a climactic chorus, her squeals twinkling with suggestive sass. During the mood-swinging "Art Star," she moves from pretentious poseur to heavy-metal fire-belcher to cutesy Ronette, then repeats the cycle -- all within two minutes. Occasionally, she's disarmingly dramatic: The incredulously pronounced lyrics of "Mystery Girl" conjure images of a stage actress pairing every line with grotesquely exaggerated expressions. But O plays it straight on the disc's smart closer, performing a coy game of call-and-response with a "Crimson and Clover"-like guitar line. It's our time, she declares. Then comes the kicker: our time to be hated. And it's probably a prophetic proclamation; the Yeah Yeah Yeahs should attract plenty of attention this year, summoning a Strokes-style backlash.
Featuring more musicians yet making much less noise is the No-No's, whose lineup reads like the roster of a minor-league all-star team, stacked with members of fair-sized acts such as Halo Benders, Tiger Trap and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. This quartet's low-end steadies its otherwise tinny tunes, but its bass lines are subtle enough that they could be removed without noticeable effect. Then again, perhaps the rhythm section just seems subtle compared with histrionic singer Robin Bowser, who fuses Corin Tucker's blustery bombast with Alanis Morrisette's hyper-enunciation (adding a syllable or two to every word). The group concocts some memorable melodies, but Bowser adds too much of her own flavor, pouring shovels of sugar into lemonade that was already sweet. Not coincidentally, Bowser holds back on the album's finest track, a rare third-person take on the classic girl-group song structure. She matter-of-factly sings Your girlfriend's not your girlfriend anymore, but her character is not the girlfriend in question; Bower is simply a messenger who delivers the news without any sense of bratty delight or personal involvement. She excels in this supporting part, but unlike YYY's Karen O, she isn't ready to assume a starring role.