Mood Music

Sound Tracking: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Mosquito”

Sound Tracking: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Mosquito”

“I miss Karen O,” I often remarked to anyone and everyone who would listen over the last four years.

I missed her wail, her sex appeal, her rawness. But what I missed most of all was the wave she rode in on, the 2001 revival of New York rock.

“I miss Karen O,” I often remarked to anyone and everyone who would listen over the last four years.

I missed her wail, her sex appeal, her rawness. But what I missed most of all was the wave she rode in on, the 2001 revival of New York rock.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs emerged from Brooklyn like a breath of fresh air tinged with whiskey and cigarettes, arm-in-arm with other stripped down New York rockers like the Strokes and the White Stripes. Each group embodied the idea of rock purity, featuring only key instruments and raw vocals. The YYYs had the added bonus of a powerful/sexy/crazy/mysterious stage presence in the form of Karen O, who deep throated microphones and squealed, screamed and danced her way through a series of awesome hit songs. Accompanied by Nick Zinner’s bare-bones guitar riffs and drummer Brian Chase’s powerful beats, the YYYs quickly became a worldwide sensation.

The band’s first album, Fever to Tell, was released in 2003, featuring one of the YYYs biggest triumphs, the heart wrenching ballad “Maps.” (O’s bleating plea of “Wait/ They don’t love you like I love you” is intensely powerful, particularly when she sings it slow in front of a live crowd.) Show Your Bones followed in 2006, featuring the acoustic favorite “Gold Lion.” The band’s third studio album It’s Blitz! was released in 2009, and boasted several hits such as “Zero,” “Heads Will Roll,” and “Skeletons.” And then, they were gone (as were the White Stripes and the Strokes), pursuing separate projects, missing from the festival and concert circuit, and causing my Karen O withdrawal.

But now, in 2013, the YYYs finally return with their fourth studio album, the highly anticipated and talked about Mosquito. And while the album isn’t set to be released until April 16th, the band has put the entire record online via an hour-long YouTube video, complete with track-by-track commentary.

The video idea is a great one, and acts as an introspective look into the band’s thoughts on the music, as well as a glimpse into their genuine awkwardness. Sadly, you have to look at the horrid Mosquito album cover while you listen, some weird combination of Garbage Pail Kids and Pixar animation. My suggestion is to just minimize it and just let the music play, pulling it back up when you want to see the band chat between songs.

It all kicks off with O introducing the band and the album, saying “I am excited about this record, excited in the way that I was back in the day with Fever To Tell.” She goes on to describe Mosquito, saying “It is kinda like a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s soul record, our version of one.” I am inclined to agree. The record boasts a series of tracks that make you smile and say, “Oh there they are, those ‘ol Yeah Yeah Yeahs.”

“Subway” is one of those tracks. Opening with the sound of a train on the tracks (an homage to the band’s hometown), the song features lyrics about losing a Metrocard, as well as some great dead-air space background sound. “Wedding Song” is another, a ballad-esque piece with a background beat that reminds the ear a little bit of the XX’s “VCR.” Both of these songs have a sweetness that stays with you.

While Mosquito does take us back to the YYYs of the past, it also ventures into new spaces for the band. As Nick Zinner says, “It feels like a breakaway but it also feels like the style of this record, of just sort of being all over the place and trying lots of different things, and not being afraid to just radically switch things up.” I agree with this, even though the statement is contradictory to the opening word from O, jumping from the idea of an old school resurrection and a new school experiment. But the album manages both, even within individual tracks.  

“Sacrilege” mixes the old soul and the new, incorporating a choir into the second half of what starts off sounding like a classic YYYs track. The presence of roots reggae is another new path for the band, and this style runs through several of the tracks like “Slave.”

Unlike previous albums, Mosquito has a lot slower, sadder, quieter numbers. Not that it doesn’t go wild at times; the title track (with a weak chorus that consists of O singing “He’ll suck your blood”) is high energy, featuring the killer guitar riffs and the sexy squeal of O that follows a high-pitched scream. But overall the screaming, aching, unbridled enthusiasm is far more tamed, trimmed and strung together in way that comes across as both mature and subdued. This is a new aspect of the YYYs music.

As a whole, the album is genuinely impressive. I admire the maturity, as it suggests growth and provides room for experimentation. But the subdued thread leaves me wanting at least one crazy, screaming track, one where I can imagine O jumping and jolting around the stage, one where I can feel the joy and lack of control. I appreciate the album’s ripeness, but I am unsure if adopting restraint leaves something out that once lent so much life to the music. But, I will listen again, and again, and again, and we’ll see what sticks.

Images courtesy of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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victor

April 5th, 2013

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