by Matt Juniper
Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Release: Mosquito (2013)
Rating: 4 / 5
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs never needed to shake things up. The punk / garage rock formula on ‘Fever To Tell’ suited them so incredibly well they could probably have gone on to make four albums like that to consistent acclaim. That Karen O spent the next 3 albums pushing the envelope in countless ways, writing everything from FM-pop to synth-heavy dance to straightforward indie rock, was a bold move.
Following two fierce guitar driven albums with a synth-driven dark dance tune (Zero) turned off a lot of fans. For me, it was this point in their career where they went from an enjoyable, one-dimensional punk band to genre-transcending superstars. ‘It’s Blitz‘ didn’t seem as strong initially as the material that preceded it but it ultimately proved to be their most rewarding listen to date. Hysteric remains my favourite YYY’s track but I didn’t even pay it attention until about 20 listens in.
For album number four, ‘Mosquito‘, they kick things off with some of the most god-awful artwork I’ve seen (see above) and then they hired a 24-piece gospel choir for the first single and album opener Sacrilege. Well, why the hell not? Further exploration of this album reveals songs about everything from aliens to mosquitos to subway rides to a ridiculous 90s-style rap verse from Dr. Octogan. And I wouldn’t spend too much time looking for deeper meanings here. It is clear Karen O isn’t taking herself too seriously here and neither should you.
But don’t mistake that light-heartedness for a band any less determined to better themselves. Sacrilege absolutely explodes out of the gate, one of the more memorable singles by any band this year. Mosquito leans heavily on Karen’s vocals to turn what would be a purely ridiculous track in less capable hands into something badass. Under the Earth revisits the strong points of ‘Show Your Bones‘. These Paths puts a pop twist on Crystal Castles signature sound. And after all that, the album gets super serious. Always, Despair, and Wedding Song are a trifecta of songs that increase in quality and emotion as they progress and represent the more tender side of the YYYs better than anything they’ve done in their career. The absurdity of Area 52 vanishes in an instant and its like it never happened as you are sucked in to the tender, intimate atmosphere.
The bottom line is that ‘Mosquito‘ is a bit all over the place, but intentionally so. A track like Sacrilege would seem out of place rubbing shoulders with a slow burner like Subway on pretty much any other album. But with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs I can’t imagine any other way I would want to play out.