The Daily Gamecock

Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Mosquito’ packs big bite

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 13: Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the NPR Showcase at Stubbs Bar-B-Que on March 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 13: Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs at the NPR Showcase at Stubbs Bar-B-Que on March 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

New York band plays with elements of pitch, adult themes

Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gone through some changes recently. At the start of the New York rock band’s fame, front woman Karen O was a wild child with raven hair, donning ripped fishnets and touting unpredictable mood swings. She would douse herself and her fans in beer while guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase bashed away on their instruments.

Back then, their music was as equally terse and trashy as O’s hair, following the Strokes deep into the soul of the garage rock scene. However, they were not without their emotional sucker punches, like the frail whispers of “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you” from the 2003 hit single “Maps.”

Now, O is platinum blond and married. The band has transitioned its music toward artsy pop territory, but one consistency is O’s delivery in that uniquely resilient voice.

Luckily for hardcore YYY fans, the band still manages to stay true to its grungy roots. But compared to previous works, “Mosquito” aims toward an edgier, more experimental sound.

The opening cut and lead single, “Sacrilege,” starts with O singing in a deceptive, midrange coo: “Fallen for a guy who fell down from the sky.” But once Zinner and Chase up the ante with their instrumentals, her vocals take off in a shrieking panic. The song becomes rather unorthodox toward the end with a howling 10-piece gospel choir coda, making the song sound like a prayer. And that’s just the first four minutes.

The second track, “Subway,” eases everything early with a slow albeit unsettling tempo and establishes the abnormality within the album. Written as if purely dedicated to the New York subway system, rackety train sounds accompany the music as O’s voice echoes like she’s stuck inside a winding tunnel.

While continuing to toy with diverse, dissonant sounds, O warbles song No. 3, the album’s title track, which sounds like something written from a horror movie: “So are you gonna let them in? / They’re hiding beneath your bed / Crawling between your legs.” Combine that with Zinner’s razor-sharp guitar riffs and you’ve got one of the most memorable songs on the album.

Once you get to “Under the Earth,” “Slave” and “These Paths,” the album slows downs to a low-key, rhythmic groove. The band gets a little foreign with “Under the Earth,” which delivers a mixture of reggae and synth, while Zinner makes an impacting presence with his crisp guitar variations on “Slave.” The trio of songs retains an oceanic calm for approximately 13 minutes, with percussion provided only once or twice by Chase to intensify the sound.

O ascends her pitch and the pace becomes more dance-able — like the band’s third and most recent studio album, “It’s Blitz!” (2009) — with “Area 52” and “Buried Alive.” Both songs bring back that trippy, nightmarish quality “Mosquito” presented earlier.

Toward the end of the album, the band once again delivers a disarming, emotional curveball. Considering O’s recent marriage, the final portion can be considered her exploration into wedded life. “Always” investigates this concept with light vocals and eerie synth sounds, while “Wedding Song” takes the search further with an honest, tearful ballad comprised of warm lyrics: “You’re the breath that I breathe.” With this final act, the band interestingly transitions from experimental rock to a series of New York homecoming dance ballads.

The full result sounds like a 45-minutelong mixtape, all of the experimental sounds blending together in a sturdy art pop record. The outcome manages to work for the band. Since the members know the strengths of their own vocal and guitar sound, the genre-mashing seems natural.

However, with this change in sound, “Mosquito” may not necessarily be the album fans have long awaited. Rather, it feels more like a recording the band wants its fans to hear, given Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ humorously blunt attitude. And after generating three successful albums with varying qualities, it’s understandable why the trio decided to push for “Mosquito.”

Were I to judge this album by including the cover art, it would probably have a lower grade. But in the end, it’s all about the music. And this music is exceptional.