"Zero" (Saturday Night Live, April 11, 2009)

by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O has taken me a while to fully digest. Early on, I figured Yeah Yeah Yeahs for one-EP wonders; later, after falling for "Maps" like everyone else and coming around on the album, I found her beer-drenched stage shtick kind of corny. So it took her appearance the other week on SNL to ram home to me what was already kind of obvious: that "Zero" is the early single of the year.

SNL's legendarily wonky sound quality was—for me, not a regular watcher—less an annoyance than a diversion, a way of hearing the song anew. It seemed more urgent somehow, and that had a lot to do with watching Karen O in action. She didn't move nearly as much as she used to—your mid-30s will do that to you. The great surprise for me was that she didn't have to: She basically mimed, totally rooted in '72 Bowie, particularly when she tugged the collar of her studded biker jacket on the line "Put your leather, leather, leather on, on, on, on, on."

There's something about that gesture that really got to me. Maybe because it's so corny on its surface, and here was Karen O, shrewd at archetypes, underselling it, implying, not pushing. And as she vogued along, it struck me how total her vision was, how absolute. Drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner aren't anyone's stooges, lest you mistake my meaning. But I'd never realized just how charismatic she is. Maybe it's just reinforced itself over the years, and I'm reacting normally. Either way: motherfucker of a song.

"She's Leaving Home"

by Easy Star All-Stars ft. Kirsty Rock
(Easy Star)

Here's an idea: Take the most mournful song off Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (oh yes, they covered it all, with Matisyahu singing lead on "Within You Without You"—no kidding, unfortunately) and turn it into slinky, insinuating ska. Have the woman singing it play the lyric for its rhythm, too—now you're talking. recommended

"Diego's Donut (RIP J Dilla)"

by Diego Bernal


From San Antonio, a hiphop beatsmith with an ear toward making everything cohere. For Corners is his album; a quick search will net you a free download. It's worth it—starting with this gorgeously mournful J Dilla memorial, its gently frayed droning horns a flag at half-mast, the ticking drums a soldier's march. recommended