For a band that started as a big part of the naughties’ Indie Garage scene, New York based trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have in 2013 birthed something much bigger, slicker, smoother and more diverse than anything their early fans might have expected in their latest album ‘Mosquito’. ‘Mosquito’ carries a lighter feel contrasted against increased instrumentation, making for a surprising change in direction.
With an opener like ‘Sacrilege”, bluntly introducing distorted vocal echoes underpinned by light drum and bass oriented beats, along with airy keys, large layers and larger gospel choir crescendos, the tone is set for the album. One can’t help wonder what sort of journey the band have been on since their last offering. The track stops short of a Phil Spector style wall of sound, but definitely carries a fixed, full, and premeditated instrumentation unlike any preceding Yeah Yeah Yeah’s record.
Clever tweaks such as real subway sounds sampled into the second track (aptly named Subway) cement the feeling we’ve opened a big new door in the first song and stepped onto a train that’s about to take us on a strange aural journey. The listener is again treated to a slick keyboard ensemble, building in rising layers over the haunting sound of a subway car clacking over old tracks. Frustratingly, just as ‘Subway’ hits a powerful emotional stride, the layers are stripped away and the train moves on to title track ‘Mosquito’. Mosquito recalls some of Karen O’s previous repetitious lyrical content, with lines such as “I’ll suck your blood” repeating against and over each other to great effect. Keeping with the album’s changed feel, there are no over-the-top power guitar and drum moments. Instead the keys prevail against the distortion, a sound that, while pleasing, doesn’t carry the same weight as early songs like “Black Tongue” or “Date With the Night”.
The middle of the record is a fun ride, as ongoing echoes, delay, further vocal layers and a percussive backdrop take the fore. ‘Under the Earth’ dabbles in marrying electronica with light distortion and tribal beats, while ‘Slave’ fills the space with an uncharacteristic ambience and bass chops (no previous lyrical puns intended) unlike the usual expectation of a typical Yeah Yeah Yeahs track. Stylistically, the ‘Sacrilege’ sound makes a brief return before another quasi-electronic track takes over in the form of ‘These Paths’. Although each middle track is pleasing, by this point multiple levels of delay and echo have begun to approach monotony.
One wonders if this wasn’t deliberate however, as ‘Area 52’ kicks in right after with more powerful guitar sounds and a more familiar industrial/space-age noisescape, recalling more closely the Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound New York and the world have come to know and love.
Yet as swiftly as it appeared, the brief and welcome garage reprise of ‘Area 52’ is replaced by another injection of electronica. Karen O’s vocal ‘Buried Alive’ gets paired with 80’s style keyboard layers, a 90’s style rap by Dr. Octagon, and a ‘Tubular Bells’ reminiscent underlay, before modulating out into ‘Always’, dubbed by the band as something of a wedding song (ironic considering the title of the final track). Carrying with it some signature vocals and the now overly familiar echoes, ‘Always’ could well be a track from an Enigma album, if the use of oceanic tremolo-flooded guitar didn’t take the song in its own emotionally compelling direction.
Following on from electronica, ambience and echoes, penultimate track ‘Despair’ sees a marked change back a recognisably soft side of Yeah Yeah Yeahs history. Diminished keyboard accents remain present, but the dominant themes are powerful, minimalist notes and chord structures, driven by pulsing kicks and gunshot snare hits, while sweet but soaring vocals carry the song to new heights. ‘Despair’ ignites the end of the album in the same way ‘Sacrilege’ does at the beginning, except this time it’s in preparation for the what has to be the album’s standout track, the most emotional, touching piece on the record; ‘Wedding Song’.
‘Despair’ and ‘Wedding Song’ see out ‘Mosquito’ in true Yeah Yeah Yeahs style, very much in the same way ‘Maps’ and ‘Y Control’ saw out 2003’s ‘Fever to Tell.’
Overall, ‘Mosquito’ is a mixed bag of vocal crescendos, touching emotional moments, driving beats and electric wizardry. It’s an enjoyable listen. Nick Zinner’s famously wild guitar is mostly missing, and if present could have assisted in minimising what can only be described as a saturation of delay, echo and keyboard; yet given the meandering feel of the record as a whole and an obvious if momentary foray into the world of ambient electronica, a mild over-use of such techniques and more understated guitar might be expected. While Karen O multi-tracking vocals and a shiny Butch Vig style production do nothing to cover a mid-section somewhat devoid of single material, the album begins and ends extremely well, leaving the listener with a number of memorable tracks and hope that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs still have a lot of life in them yet.
My rating: 8 mosquito’s out of 10.
By: Ariana Pelser