Alfred Soto: Over guitar ripples, the most basic drum pattern of Brian Chase’s career, and Karen’s voice beyond her natural range, the band raise a ruckus loud enough to put heaven on notice. But heaven has heard enough gospel choirs, even ones adulterated with a touch of distortion.
Jer Fairall: Beginning with some ugly vocal distortion and concluding with a “Like a Prayer” gospel choir that fails to take me anywhere at all, the bulk of “Sacrilege” is plodding, “serious” midtempo rock from a band whose best poses have always been defined by extremes. Whether dipping into the epic melancholia of “Maps” or twirling through the exuberant highs of “Zero,” this is not a band that does subtlety with any of the grace with which they scale emotional peaks and valleys. Bound to be praised by many as “adventurous,” what I hear is the first major disappointment of 2013.
Katherine St Asaph: After Karen O’s sojourn into the land of wild things and Trent Reznor, pretty much any comeback from the YYYs proper would be welcome. The “this is our lo-fi album” quote initially gave me pause — late-career lo-fi turns generally seem to me like missing the point — but the budget’s evidently still got room for that vocal processing late ’90s frontwomen would’ve paid dearly for, a chorus like singed nerves, a lyric that for once is subtle with its Lucifer-lover parallel, and an utterly unsubtle faux gospel choir that, if you object, proves its point that much more.
Ian Mathers: Up until It’s Blitz! I always found these guys easier to respect than love, and sadly “Sacrilege” makes me feel like I’m back there again. It sounds fine when it’s playing, and the cod-gospel ending is neat, but I don’t feel any of the excitement I felt with “Zero” or “Heads Will Roll.” Maybe it’ll be more satisfying as an album track.
Rebecca A. Gowns: For all its parts, it sounds unfinished. It’s funny — it’s a fine song on its own, until the gospel choir comes in and evokes bigger and better sounds, and suddenly the whole thing seems hokey. That beginning bit is reminiscent of this song of theirs from 6-7 years ago — and even though it was used in an Adidas commercial, it still sounds less commercial than “Sacrilege.” Go figure.
Edward Okulicz: Adding a choir to a half-baked song is, itself, a half-baked idea. You can hear a gurgle, the start but not the finished product, of a groove in the verses, which promise a progression from the sound of the low-key stunners off It’s Blitz! — “Soft Shock,” for instance. — But the chorus melody is maybe quarter-baked, and as for Karen O’s clumsily squealed attack on the dull chorus melody… well, that’s just dough.
Patrick St. Michel: A choir is one of the riskiest additions to a song any rock band can make. Even if this song is religious in nature — and the more I listen to “Sacrilege,” the more I think that makes it extra corny — they should have used that extra money on something a little less ridiculous.
Scott Mildenhall: When the apocalypse finally does arrive, an extended mix of this will blare from a huge speaker system in the blood orange sky. Everyone will be a little bit too preoccupied to appreciate the moment — you only get to experience the end of the world once, after all — but what a moment it will be.
Brad Shoup: This song could go on forever, no? It might have started playing years ago. The regular strikes on the cymbal bells give this a fearsome roll; other supporting touches — guitar noodle and an unusually snippy choir — serve to further push this thing along the tracks.
Sonya Nicholson: This reminds me of the autism simulator. As Karen O approaches the source of her pain, the cacophony increases, becoming nearly unbearable — except not really, because this is a radio single. Either the song doesn’t break down enough or the melody isn’t strong enough to support more noise.
Iain Mew: The last album finally brought me round to Yeah Yeah Yeahs (thinking of “Maps” as a separate thing, because it kind of is.) This loses all of the focus and goes right back to being vague and a bit annoying. The way that the vocal approaches jump all over the place with each line doesn’t help, and that’s even before the choir comes in to flatten what flimsy song there was.
Anthony Easton: We have heard this before from Karen O, and the idea of sacrilege in bed seems so played-out, especially when her previous work like “Heads Will Roll” was so sophisticated. Can a style or aesthetic become ossified beyond use? It suggests that we expect novelty from our artists, perhaps especially when a woman is performing — compare Karen O to Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave and note the differences — but this might just be a problem of contemporary music, regardless of gender. Extra point for the choir-like vocals near the end.
Josh Langhoff: If you don’t have any Lutheran Facebook friends you might have missed this story: In December after the shootings, a Newtown pastor in one of the more conservative Lutheran church bodies gave a benediction at a local interfaith prayer vigil. (Baha’i and Muslim leaders also took part.) This pastor received a reprimand from his church body’s national president for worshiping with the wrong people, or at least for creating the impression that such worship is OK; the pastor apologized publicly; much of the internet got justifiably angry; some internet wingnuts from this conservative church body, to which I once belonged, are still defending the whole episode with cries of “unionism” and “syncretism.” Or here’s one you know: The same week my Lutheran story blew up, a noted author of fiction took to the Web denouncing Taylor Swift, in part because her “sounds are free of the thrill of players playing together.” Just like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Prince… are we still having these arguments? Arbitrary orthodoxies never fail to make me angry, but then I feel immediate relief that I’m not bound by such bullshit. While I’d like to empathize with Karen O, I’m not sure who’s calling “sacrilege” on her, especially since she’s been major-label her entire album career, so maybe “Sacrilege” is simply about a guy and she’s not being overly defensive about the mechanics of selling out. Either way, it would’ve livened up the City of Angels soundtrack.