The Yeah Yeah Yeahs new album, Mosquito, was a real slow burner for me. Their last, It’s Blitz—with its disco death march "Heads Will Roll" and pop-y "Zero"—was an instant crowd pleaser, like a newborn puppy licking your face.
This latest moody record, with hideous baby bug rape cover art and a Cramps-like logo, is more like a snotty, scratchy cat whose love you must earn with repeated listens. Goth gospel anthem "Sacrilege" was the first single, and seems to be about fucking an angel. "Area 52" is a dorky Ramones-esque wish for alien abduction. The bloodthirsty title song could be a bitter ode to lawyers or the dreaded IRS.
Kanye West’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy was apparently an influence on the album’s production, and like that album, Mosquito has quite a few collaborators and co-conspirators. Another peak is the James Murphy-produced "Buried Alive," which marries a top-heavy Banshees boogie to a rap by Dr. Octagon (aka Kool Keith.)
Singer Karen O knows that one can’t go on screaming into and fellating a microphone forever, and the best moments on Mosquito are the softer sides. The ethereal, mumbly ballad "Subway" uses train track sounds as subtle percussion. "Always" is a sweet synth riff with the title chanted over and over like a mantra, and "Wedding Song" yet another love song about angels. (This new husband of Miss O’s must have quite the halo.)
The highlight of the band's set at Webster Hall last week was "Despair," probably my favorite off the album. It’s similar to their first hit Maps, another big ballad with the uplifting chorus of “Through the darkness and the light, some sun has got to rise; my sun is your sun.” Yeah Yeah Yeah’s hallmark is to blend that melancholy and hope at the same time.
The concert venue was hilariously plastered with signs that said, “PLEASE DO NOT WATCH THE SHOW THROUGH YOUR SMART PHONE. PUT THAT SHIT AWAY!” Karen even repeated the admonishment when she walked onstage, but none of that stopped the boring Instagrammas from endlessly snapping away. Maybe they were documenting O’s crazy pimped-out new look. With her blond bob and yellow suit, she looks like James Brown and Anna Wintour on acid. She really is one of the most exciting front people around today, a funny and fearsome combo of Iggy Pop and Siouxsie Sioux, with a dash of Pee-wee Herman on top.
And for 13 years she and her bandmates, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, have continued to evolve the sound, which is why they remain relevant longer than contemporaries like The Strokes, Interpol, and the White Stripes’s Jack White, whose songs sadly remain the same. Mosquito is a welcome buzz, and like its titular pest, it will get under your skin after a while.
Listen to the album below: