April 10, 2013

Test Spins: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito

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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerged as one of the early-2000s bands that were all-but-destined to save rock. Aside from the New York trio, there were also bands like The Strokes, The White Stripes and others that critics and fans merged into a group of rock superheroes who led a sort of post-punk revival. As of now, though, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are essentially the lone survivors of said movement; The White Stripes are defunct and, let’s be honest, nobody really knows why The Strokes even make new music anymore.

Even with only four albums under their belt since their debut LP, Karen O, Brian Chase and Nick Zinner still manage to stay fresh and sound new again with each record. Unlike some of their peers, the YYYs have aged very gracefully and, as proven by their latest release, Mosquito, still have even more potential to grow. Mosquito is a natural progression for the band that manages to at once surprise us and give us just what we expect, resulting in a final product that’s nothing spectacular but nevertheless full of shining moments.

Mosquito is pretty much an amalgamation of everything the YYYs have done already: there’s bratty, Fever to Tell-era punk on the title track; there are anthemic ballads like the Show Your Bones-esque “Despair”; and the occasional venture into disco on tracks like “Always” and “These Paths” that harken back to It’s Blitz. The record thus leaves us with a reminder that even as the band continues to expand its repertoire, it doesn’t forget how and where it started.

But the album’s really exceptional moments are found on tracks where the group experiments with new sounds. Lead single “Sacrilege” appropriately features a gospel choir, while on James Murphy-produced “Buried Alive” the band enlists Dr. Octagon to rap a verse over Chase’s thundering percussion and Zinner’s distorted riffs.

These journeys into territory previously unknown to the band enhance already great songs, leaving us with album standouts, most notably the best track on the record, “Under the Earth.” The booming, reggae-tinged track is the album’s funkiest and catchiest, reminiscent of what is arguably the band’s best post-Fever to Tell release, the 2007 EP IS IS. It’s also the album’s darkest song, with Karen O burying a suitor in the ground.

And then there’s Karen O. She’s probably the closest thing to a rock goddess our generation has. Her infamous live performances have seared her into fans’ minds as a flamboyant, feather-and-sequin-clad, beer-swilling (and spitting) hooligan. But as the years pass, she continues to transform into a more refined frontwoman with the same commanding, powerful stage presence.

Her toned-down live performances as well as her newly refined llyrics and delivery could be a result of maturity, but we also must remember that Karen O, who used to scream “I gotta man who makes me wanna kill” and “ride daddy ride,” is now a wife. This could probably explain her shift from not-so-subtly erotic lyricism to more heartfelt, lovey-dovey sentiments. The album’s closer, aptly titled “Wedding Song,” has her cooing ethereally, “You’re the breath that I breathe,” while on “Sacrilege,” she compares her lover to an angel that fell from the sky. She also sings to her first love, New York City, on “Subway,” singing in a wistful falsetto over Zinner’s fluttering guitar line.

But on other tracks, she proves that while you can take the crazy out of Karen O, you can’t keep Karen O away from the crazy. The title track has her wailing her signature wail on the chorus (“I’ll suck your blood!!!!!!!”) and the sci-fi “Area 52” has her snarling, “I wanna be your passenger / take me as your prisoner.” Songs like these make fans thankful that the band hasn’t forgotten its roots.

But, as the saying goes, there’s a time for everything, and with Mosquito, the band just can’t figure out its footing. Clearly, the songs here have a place somewhere; each one is wonderful in its own way. But they don’t necessarily belong on Mosquito; in fact, they belong on a number of other albums.

Sure, Mosquito lacks cohesion, but hey, Karen O and crew are back in a big way.

Original Author: Sydney Ramsden