Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2013-04-15

Something strange happened in 2009: Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their most pop album yet, the synth-heavy, dancefloor-friendly It's Blitz! And the bugger didn't sell. Perhaps crystal clear melodies and robot-dance beats just aren't what most people want from a grubby little NY art-punk band.

Admirably, YYYs show no signs on their fourth long-player of having been chastened into repeating the guitar-and-drums template of their first two records. Instead, Mosquito, recorded at the same Sonic Ranch studio as their previous album, sees a canny partial retreat to a more lo-fi, scrappy sound without completely surrendering the synth and drum machines. In fact, those two elements inform most if the songs here, from the excellent crunchy dub of 'Under the Earth' to the now obligatory YYYs weepy, 'Always' (singer Karen O, never the most versatile singer, gives reliably good voice-tremble on the group's slow numbers).

Overall, Mosquito plays like a mix of tried-and-tested sounds and some new directions. Mostly it pays off. Opener 'Sacrilege' initially sounds like YYYs-by-numbers: Punky and raunchy but tense and minimalist, until a bloody great choir bursts into full voice just passed the two-minute mark. The trick of getting a choir in to lend your song a bit of easy gravitas is an old one - everyone from Madonna to Blur has used it - but it's genuinely unexpected and thrilling to hear such a trope crashing into the YYYs' traditionally stripped-back sound and it sets things up nicely.

The title track combines one of the band's most balls-out rock moments with an 'Apache'-style drum-loop. I've always loved the moments when Karen and the boys sound like some kind of alt-rock Mötley Crüe, and 'Mosquito' puts a fresh twist on their hysterical, near-metal theatrics. The aforementioned 'Under the Earth' is one of the album's standout moments, a punk-dub hybrid with a lovely, Eastern-tinged synth melody at its heart. The band can now add dub to the list of genres they've tried and mastered. Should be a single.

The dub feel continues on next track 'Slave', a slow-burner with some classic rock wailing from ever-reliable axe-man Nick Zinner. In contrast, 'These Paths' dodges guitars altogether in favour of a minimalist beat and fuzzy, vintage synth sounds. Towards the end, Karen's voices becomes treated and stuttering, another effect in a gloopy morass of synth sounds. It's about as far away from a traditional rock sound as the band has ever been.

The following 'Area 52' gets back to rocking, its simple riffs augmented with a swath of fizzing effects, sirens and weird, helium-voiced harmonies. Considering it's probably the album's most light-weight moment, there's a hell of a lot packed in here.

'Buried Alive' is probably the biggest departure for the band. Musically, it combines the disparate trends on the album into something which hisses and insinuates like a dub track, throbs like it belongs on the dancefloor, yet routinely shudders with interjections of coruscating guitar. All of which shouldn't surprise too much as production comes courtesy of ex-LCD Soundsystem man James Murphy. The novelty factor is the track's Dr. Octagon guest appearance; a doom-laden rap which reminds of Del tha Funkee Homosapien's contribution to Gorillaz's 'Clint Eastwood'.

Unfortunately, a few sub-par songs slow the pace of the album. The spectral lullaby 'Subway', bizarrely placed at track two, is little more than a lovely sound in search of a decent melody. It fails to locate one over the course of five minutes. The closing two numbers are also a disappointment. 'Despair' sounds like it wants to be the album's anthemic, iPhones-aloft moment (although perhaps not, given the band's recent plea to fans not to use their phones at gigs), but just ends up being repeatative and shrill.

'Wedding Song', meanwhile, takes the band into piano-ballad territory. Karen O, always a better lyricist when she sticks to the abstract, here focusses on her recent marriage, with cringe-worthy, quite shockingly awful results: her husband is the breath that she breathes, angels surround her while she sleeps etc etc. To compound matters, it's just as uninspired musically as it is lyrically, sounding like U-bloody-2 ferchristsakes.

These three tracks are too slow, too long, sound under-worked and are just plain boring. Their placing on the album means it sadly suffers from both a weak start and a crawling, under-powered end. 'Wedding Song', coming from the same band that gave us the galvanising thrills of 'Art Star', 'Date With the Night, 'Man' and 'Zero', is especially unforgivable.

But let's focus on the good stuff. Mosquito finds a band, now a decade into their album-releasing career, still trying on new sounds and styles. For the most part, they nail everything they turn their hand to. Most importantly, considering the moribund likes of The Strokes and the dead-eyed careerism of Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs still know how to fucking rock. Amen to that.

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