The trio’s self-titled debut EP, released back in 2001, set the scene. There was the coarse punk stomp of ‘Bang’; the brutal screaming and self-parodying wit of ‘Art Star’; the delicate, romantic coos of ‘Our Time’. Here was a band capable of being all things to all people – simultaneously. While never sounding remotely confused as a consequence.
It’s a theme which continued throughout the threesome’s subsequent releases. 2003 debut full-length, ‘Fever To Tell, gave us both the dancefloor-conquering breakthrough romp ‘Date With The Night’ and the majestically epic blub-fest (and, pre-smoking ban, lighter-friendly) ‘Maps’. ‘Show Your Bones’, which followed in 2006, offered up the pounding percussion of ‘Gold Lion’ alongside the sweet ‘Cheated Hearts’. Put ‘Rockers To Swallow’ from 2007’s ‘Is Is’ EP against anything from the synth stylings of 2009 album ‘It’s Blitz’. They all sound different. They all sound exactly like Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
This is just why ‘Mosquito’ shines so brightly (it’s not just the lurid sleeve).
“We’re excited to share the good vibes”, says Karen O of the record. There’s enough “good vibes” within opener – and lead single – ‘Sacrilege’ to fuel about ten albums at least. It’s not just upbeat, it’s massive. It’s not just massive; with the gospel choir joining in about two-and-a-half minutes in to the track, it’s positively cathedral-sized. It’s a statement of intent. While beginning in a manner not dissimilar to much of predecessor ‘It’s Blitz’ – guitar noodling replacing synths around some relatively tame vocals – two-thirds in to the first track, it’s clear ‘Mosquito’ isn’t aiming small.
Yet it’s largely a quiet record. ‘Subway’, with both its lyrical and musical references to the New Yorkers’ transport of choice (the percussive element here appears to be a sample of a subway train itself) is slow and delicate; ‘Always’ is subtle and dream-like. ‘Under The Earth’ makes use of Eastern-influenced organs and layered percussion to take time to take hold. ‘These Paths’ is another to put Karen’s vocals firmly at the centre, their vulnerable side shown off by the deft use of samples.
The band are arguably at their most powerful when they make use of layered sounds; ‘Maps’, their musical high point, took time to build, and it’s similar moments here which show the trio’s skill off best. ‘Despair’, perhaps the most ‘Maps’-like moment on this record, takes the repeated (though slightly altered) lyric “my son is your son” and carnival-esque melodies to kick in fully towards the end. Closer ‘Wedding Song’ is quietly epic, Karen’s cooing vocals placed alongside piano, the song growing and growing, building and building until it’s gone and the record ends open-mouthed.
But it’s not all subtleties. Undoubtedly the most immediately brilliant song is the title track. ‘Mosquito’, with its simple repetitive refrain and ‘Psycho Killer’ bass line is nothing short of genius. “I’ll suck your blood!” Karen repeats throughout, equal parts spite and silliness. ‘Area 52’ is even less serious. As the title hints, it’s a crunchy, sci-fi themed punk romp. “I wanna be an alien”, goes the refrain, with more than a wink to the Ramones, a cheerleader-style chant among space-age effects. And yet that’s not the strangest point of the record.
‘Buried Alive’ is, at some points, classically Yeah Yeah Yeahs; the chanting chorus is backed by disco-esque pulsating beats. Then there’s the rap. Which, despite on first listen (and without a tracklist to hand to pre-warn), causing shrieks of “HUH!”, makes complete and total sense. Without going in to the complex, chequered history of rap, rock and disco; this is a track which suits Karen’s vocals at their most confident, dancefloors, and the guest slot from Dr Octagon – the sometime alter ego of New York rapper, Kool Keith.
Like Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ discography, it’s a mixed bag: perhaps slower than many were hoping after the synth-heavy ‘It’s Blitz’; the talk of a return to guitars had many a fan digging out their copies of ‘Fever To Tell’ with hopeful ears. But no less brilliant; the magic here is less visceral than their debut, but far more accomplished than many may have given the trio credit for. Sounds layered upon sounds; the intricacies here may hint towards ‘Mosquito’ being more of a grower than its older siblings, but it proves that Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a band to cherish.
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