It’s mind-boggling to think that it’s been a decade since Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerged from the lightning cloud of buzz and expectation that crackled around their debut. That was in the early noughties, when a holy trinity of NYC saviours – Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, & The Rapture – arrived on a splintering NYC music scene to provide CPR and resuscitate the city’s decaying heart of indie rock.
The Rapture may have since fallen by the rock ’n’roll wayside but there’s a certain symmetry between the story of The Strokes and that of Yeah Yeah Yeahs: both NYC indie outfits came close to imploding due to internal band friction, and both made it through that to release comeback albums in 2013. Yet it’s been four years since Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their last album, electro-smash It’s Blitz! So two key pertinent questions arise: are they even relevant today, and is the album any good?
Fortunately Mosquito proves that the answer to both those questions is an emphatic “yes”. Opening track and lead single Sacrilege is a crescendo’ing mesh of dance-floor worthy drumbeats and beguiling synths that climaxes by way of a fully overblown gospel choir. This is wonderfully ironic, given that the song is about illicit sex with a fallen angel. It’s as impressive and eccentric as any single you’ve heard this year, featuring cowbell flourishes and the best driving bass-line of 2013. Karen O’s vocals are nothing short of spectacular – as she whispers, wails and yelps her way through this track and the rest of the album.
Imaginative second track Subway takes the pace down several notches after the majesty of the opener, using the rattle and clatter of a subway train as the rhythm section for what is ultimately a slow burning ballad, in which subterranean travel is used as an allegory for a failing relationship (“I lost you on the subway car/ Got caught without my metro card/ I waited and I waited for the express train/ Wanna catch up to you wherever you are…”)
The title track, like the album artwork that serves as its day-glo pictorial representation, encapsulates the recurrent themes of the album: the vampiric and parasitical nature of friendship and love. It’s best summed up by the lyrics for Mosquito’s magnificent bridge: “They can see you but you can’t see them, so are you gonna let them in, hiding beneath your bed, crawling between your legs, sticking it in your veins…” The song itself is a ferocious blaze of Brian Chase’s cavernous drums and Nick Zinner’s squealing guitars that will have you somersaulting yourself around the room with gusto.
Gothic dub masterpiece Under The Earth is the sonic equivalent of sharpening a sword on which to impale several ex-lovers (“Twelve tongues put a hex on ya… Down down under earth goes another lover…”). Elsewhere, the awesome Slave sees O’s vocals at her most Siouxsie-like; it’s a darkly gorgeous track showcasing Zinner’s spirited scratchy guitar-work as the singer grapples with the idea of a relationship’s emotional ties being a form of captivity.
The final three songs comprise the perfect ending: the lush sublime Always, the ironically upbeat Despair, and album showpiece Wedding Song. Wedding Song is a true heart-stirring gem which, with its enchanting vulnerability, serves as a cousin to Fever To Tell’s standout track Maps. After so much angst, desperation and despair (at least lyrically and thematically), it’s the perfect note to bow out on.
Since their inception Yeah Yeah Yeahs have managed to continually sound fresh whilst maintaining their artistic integrity, and things are no different on album number four. Keeping long-time producers Dave Sitek and Nick Launey on board (James Murphy produces Buried Alive) was wise, since Mosquito is not so much a change of direction as it is an affirmation of all the musical elements that made the band exhilarating to begin with. It melds the lo-fi art-punk scuzz of their debut, the polished indie sheen of their sophomore, and the synthy bluster of It’s Blitz!
Now how can that ever be a bad thing?
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