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Rock giants downsize sound on ‘Mosquito’

Dylan Dobson, 4Play Editor
April 24, 2013
Filed under 4Play

When The Yeah Yeah Yeahs released “Mosquito” April 16, ending a nearly half decade of silence from the group, they may have released the most important album of the band’s prestigious career.

The album, which follows their 2009’s “It’s Blitz!,” would be considered an experiment by most critics, were it not released by the band who brought experimental rock to the mainstream when they released their 2003 breakthrough, “Fever to Tell.”

Whereas “It’s Blitz!” was loud and electronic, with dance tracks such as “Heads Will Roll” making up its core, “Mosquito” remains much more reserved. The band retains its usage of low-fi production techniques while still managing to present a very polished product.

The opening track, “Sacrilege,” appropriately calls in a gospel choir for its chorus, evoking an image of the muses from Disney’s “Hercules” accompanying Karen O in her cries of “I plead, I pray. It’s sacrilege, you say.”  The sheer grandeur of this moment fit into such a scaled-down track makes for one of the most exciting sonic moments in recent memory.

Other tracks on the album would sound perfectly at home on “Fever to Tell.” “Always,” for example, is a simple track that plays with Cyndi Lauper charm and detached urgency not unlike that of the band’s breakthrough hit, “Maps.”

Karen O’s vocals cast her into the character of a playful phantom of the night, painting imagery into the brains of listeners, while carelessly ignoring convention.

On “Mosquito,” the album’s title track, she buzzes and whispers about insects feasting on blood before loudly proclaiming that she’d like to do the same. She is and always has been an original — a unique musical tour de force that takes control of her lyrics as well as her music.

Appropriately, the strings of lead guitarist Nick Zinner are more reserved on this album. The rest of the band, no matter how important, seems secondary to Karen O’s energy.

Nevertheless, the musicianship on the album is extremely tight. “Under the Earth,” a track featuring synth strings, is a perfect example of this. The drums bubble and pop seamlessly with the rhythmic bass. Karen’s vocals on the track are reminiscent of the much-acclaimed Alex Winston, while the song itself recalls tracks from the band’s own “Is, Is” EP.

The outro in “These Paths” is also impressive — an electronic experiment in vocal samples that was probably at least a bit inspired by indie-electronic darlings Purity Ring.

Each of the tracks speed into each other at a jarring pace that leaves the album as a whole feeling choppy. Still, the signature identity of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs leaves “Mosquito” inexplicably coherent, even when Karen O goes from singing about serious topics such as the emotional nature of sex or drug abuse to gleefully shouting that she wants to be an alien on “Area 52.”

The album culminates with the tragic “Wedding Song,” probably the most personal-sounding track ever recorded by the band. With sparse piano egging her on, Karen O utters the lyrics, “With every breath I breathe, I’m making history. With your name on my lips, the ages fall to bits.”

The track is more than likely a proclamation of Karen O’s love for her husband, video director Barnaby Clay. The rock goddess’ turbulent love life has often been the subject of much scandal, and the track celebrates the miracle of a healthy relationship. It also offers up a less tawdry, more mature side to the rambunctious punk princess who, when she’s not designing fashion or recording with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, one of the most important art bands of all time, has done things like recording the soundtrack to the 2009 adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Despite its longer length , frantic energy allows “Mosquito” to fly by. This, along with the enigmatic nature of Karen O’s lyrics, make it extremely easy to listen to over and over again.

“Mosquito” is one of the best albums to come out thus far in 2013, made only more exciting by the fact that The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been confirmed as one of the ground stage headliners for this year’s Summerfest music festival in Milwaukee.