Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito

The first time the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played Baltimore, they played first on a four-band Ottobar bill, one headlined by skronk-punk out-of-towners Milemarker and Arab On Radar. The only locals on the bill were League of Death, the mutant hardcore band whose two-man core went onto become the two-man core of Double Dagger. A year or two later, I interviewed the incipient Double Dagger, and Nolen Strahls, Double Dagger’s singer, was still fuming about how much he hated the Yeah Yeah Yeahs: “Her whole thing, like, ’Oh, look at me, I’m so crazy because I’m spilling beer on myself and I have a ripped Versace T-shirt!’ Who gives a fuck? That is so forced!” What Nolen hated about the band was, of course, what the rest of the world, me included, loved about them — this outsized and fully-formed star, proudly posing out front of a band cranking out a spare and bloodthirsty variant on turn-of-the-century DIY punk. The band didn’t take long to leave behind the Cramps-addled sound they had at those early shows; they went onto arena-campfire alt-rock on Show Your Bones and dizzy synthpop on It’s Blitz!. But all the while, they’ve maintained that dynamic, globe-trotting fashion-icon types who came of age in a time when even next-big-things — and they were very much next-big-things by the time they made it to Baltimore — were expected to do time in the trenches, opening for Milemarker and dropping EPs on Touch & Go. Mosquito is the band’s fourth album, and it’s the leap-into-maturity move expected of any band that lasts for albums. But even as the band slows down and stretches out, they’re still very much that band.

Mosquito doesn’t lurch in any particular single-genre direction the way the other YYYs albums have. Instead, it feels like a historical taking-stock moment, and the band makes sure to find room for bits and pieces of all their old songs. Take, for instance, the alien love song “Area 52,” the goofiest and most unhinged song on the whole album. On the face of it, its mutant-garage bluster is a throwback to the anarchic beer-spitting early years. But it’s got the expertly recorded big-room chaos that co-producer Dave Sitek likes to bring to things, and that self-conscious enormity feels very Show Your Bones. (That first EP, after all, was sparse and clean in a way that nothing here is.) And It’s Blitz! could show up, just slightly, in the form of a plinky-plonk synth melody. So even as the focus shifts, the whole album feels like the band reminding us, for really the first time, just who in the fuck they are.

We also get some new big-star studio decisions here, but even those serve to situate the band’s members in a sort of temporal context. The way the gospel choir shows up to stomp and hoot through the end of “Sacrilege,” for instance, is a total “Like A Prayer” move, or in any case it’s the move of a bunch of musicians who were kids when “Like A Prayer” blew their collective mind. And the band recruits Kool Keith (in his Dr. Octagon guise, no less!) for a guest-rap on “Buried Alive,” it’s a sure sign of a group whose rap tastes are permanently stuck in indie-nerd 1997, who haven’t even gotten around to checking out those Mos Def 12″ singles on Rawkus yet. No band with a single member under the age of 30 would attempt either of these moves, just like very few bands of the indie-narrowcasting era will ever fuck with production this bright or enormous or melodies this unabashedly cheap-seats celestial. That sense of grandeur might show the band members’ collective age and reveal their remove from the current musical climate, but it works. That Kool Keith guest verse? It’s great!

So Mosquito sounds big and bold and adventurous, and even when the YYYs are pulling ideas and sounds from their past selves’ fingers, they’re rehashing nothing. They rove around from song to song, pushing each one as far as its own aesthetic will go, before launching off into something totally different on the next one. “Buried Alive,” the one with the Kool Keith guest verse, is also the only one that James Murphy produced, and it’s a fierce and slashing piece of disco-punk, its guitars as chaotic as its beat is focused. “Under The Earth” has dub-echo drums and slow-burn Peter Gabriel digging-into-eternity synth-lines. “These Paths” has drums sounds that converge on you from everywhere, like the carnivorous bugs of the album’s title — the ones paid tribute on the album’s title track, which sounds how Lydia Lunch might’ve sounded if Tegan And Sara had sent themselves back in time to write choruses for her. These songs spread their tentacles in all different directions, but there’s nothing polite or restrained about any of them; they remain an indie band from an era when indie bands still had plenty of punk in their DNA. They still rip.

But as much ground as the band covers, as much as they’ve always covered, one thing has remained constant about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs from that first EP. It’s this: The faster, brighter, harder numbers that jump out in front of you and grab your attention straight away, but when the band slows down and opens up their collective heart, that’s when they really grab you. “Subway” is the second song here and the one that immediately follows the elemental whoop of “Sacrilege,” and it’s easy to overlook at first. But it’s a near-perfect song, building itself over a loop of train-clatter, its pillowy synths slowly and gradually covering everything. And then the album ends with a trio of ballads that work together to destroy every part of you. “Always” is a diffuse and synthetic thing, one where Karen O coos the title over and over, like a plea. “Despair” builds with an assured grace, pounding amazing hook after amazing hook into our brains as Karen offers up a genuinely powerful ode to friendship: “You’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there.” And then “Wedding Song,” Karen’s song for her husband, is total devastation material: “You’re the breath that I breathe, the breath that I breathe” as keyboards pile up but never reach anything like that “Maps” guitar explosion. It’s a simple, quiet, comfortable song about absolute devotion, and it absolutely slays me dead. If and when this lady has kids, can you imagine how heartwrenching her songs will become? I seriously cannot wait. For now, though, this is the sweeping and overblown rock-star love hymn that we need in our lives.

Mosquito is out 4/16 on Interscope.

Comments (25)
  1. Please YYYs, please DO NOT go back to the sound of your heyday. Why? Because you can’t fucking do it anymore. Listen to the song “Mosquito”. You just can’t force these things. That tune is embarrassing. Stick with what you are doing on “Sacrilege” or “Under the Earth”. Its not all that great, but you are working with what ya got. Now, let’s soundtrack some car commercials, be the backing track on terrible CW show segues, and perhaps even make it to pop radio. I won’t be turning it off, but I won’t be turning it up either.

    forgettable by numbers average pop record

  2. Good for them and whatever direction they take on that allows them even more listeners. They paid their dues, they put in their time and deserve popular success. This is a band I like to call (obligatory sports reference) a 5 tool player…they bring every element needed to the field; charismatic singer, great rhythm section, knowledge of how to stay musically relevant, credibility, and the unreal knack to give us a pounding hook that can make them a few bucks too. Cannot wait for this.

  3. I’ll admit to never being a huge YYY fan even in their heyday, but I did really enjoy some of their songs here and there. I feel the same way about this album. It’s nice, I can see why people would like it, I dig a couple of songs, but I wouldn’t ever give it the big-ups that Tom did here.

  4. I really want to love this album, but too many of the songs sound the same to me. They kind of meander and don’t grab me. “Sacrilege” is killer though.

    • I have to agree. I’m a huge YYYs fan, and I was so looking forward to this given that It’s Blitz! was my favorite album from 2009. In comparison to that, and their albums prior, this one does feel a little boring. Too many ballads here, and while some are good, it all makes for a very unexciting record. As copy_paster_cat put it, when they do speed it up on songs like “Mosquito”, it sounds too forced or silly to really enjoy. I agree that the YYYs shouldn’t go back to their old sound, but I felt like they found a perfectly good new one with It’s Blitz! Moving into synth-dance territory was a great move on their part, but it seems like they’ve totally abandoned it on here. It’s not a bad album, there are solid songs on here such as “Sacrilege”, “Under the Earth”, and “Wedding Song”, but a lot of these songs are throwaways. Maybe my expectations were a little too high, but in my opinion, this one was a pretty big letdown.

  5. I just can’t get over how ridiculously insane that album artwork is.

  6. Like many commenters above me, I find Tom’s evaluation to be a bit over-excited. The album has its high marks, some low marks, and a lot of in between. I find it to be weird and oddly enjoyable, but not really on par with what they’ve done before. My two cents.

  7. i haven’t heard this yet since i’m still at work, but i can’t wait to get drunk and blast it tonite

  8. unfortunately have to agree this is their weakest record to date which is unfortunate…sacrilege and under the earth are the highlights here. alot of potential that just doesn’t materialize in the other songs….the throw back songs, mosquito and area 52 are pretty rough…some cringing

  9. can Siouxsie and the Banshees make a new album already.

  10. Fantastic evaluation, fantastic album.

  11. MOSQUITO an amazing record. It’s funny that I literally saw someone suggest that they stick with the IT’S BLITZ sound. I love It’s Blitz but I’m pretty sure I remember a lot of people complaining that it didn’t sound like FTT or SYB when it came out.

    They always change and – so far – it’s always been good. No exception here. MOSQUITO is surprisingly touching and trippy. As are as the title track being embarrassing? It’s called “being playful.” I shudder to think of what ya’ll would have thought of any upbeat Sonic Youth song post 1988.

    • Thank you for that, and amen. The idea that “Mosquito” could make anyone cringe makes me think they have never heard YYY before. That song is awesome. I’m enjoying the record for sure.

  12. A good record, but certainly their weakest effort. I love the fact that the YYYs are a chameleon-like rock group, and I’m really not longing for a return to the garage rock of Fever To Tell, but I just wish the songs on Mosquito had a bit more energy. It’s a very lethargic record, and I’ve got to agree with previous posters that the rockier numbers (Mosquito, Area 51) never really get going. In fact the much criticized rap spot is about the only thing that has a bit of zip to it.

  13. I haven’t gotten the chance to listen to this album yet, but based on the comments, I have a feeling my reactions to it will be similar to those initial feelings that I had with It’s Blitz. As Evan, pointed out, I was one of those many people that was at first appalled by the new direction YYY’s took on with It’s Blitz – literally to the point where I was close to penning them for being sellouts and for jumping on the synth-dance blah blah bandwagon.

    Long story short, I never wrote that letter. I did however give that album repeated listens for whatever reason, something kept drawing me in, and it eventually grew on me to the point where I now almost love it. It’ll be funny if I go through something similar with Mosquito.

  14. this album cover is fantastic. It’s like when a movie trailer doesn’t give away the whole film. I have so many questions. What is that green sludge the baby is eating? Is the mosquito attacking the baby because of the sludge or did it get the jump on the baby because the baby was busy with the green sludge and didn’t notice the baby sized mosquito?! The sludge is labeled YYY’s so it’s obviously important! At first I thought maybe there was some kind of static shock going on because of the baby’s hair but it looks like there is either a fan off to the right of the image or more likely the left of the image is down relative to the action because some of the YYY’s green sludge is leaking out in the same direction the baby’s hair is falling, if that is true is this a mid-air battle?!

  15. I kinda strongly disagree guys. First of all, all YYY albums need time to sink in so that the “new direction” can be fully appreciated. Upon first listen it is in line with the quality of the others. I have my favorites Sacrilege, Area 52, Despair, Wedding Song and then the others will grow I’m sure. I don’t dislike any song which is pretty typical for how I feel about their albums. I am really feeling it. This band is too good and too creative to make a bad album. They aren’t like The Strokes (whom I love) who seem to be chasing the accolades of the indie music masses. They make and have always made music that is interesting to them and I think that is why I personally gravitate towards them and while I continue to respect and admire them.

  16. Oh cool, so the same article I already read.

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