Mosquito proves to be a fitting name for the fourth album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Like its namesake, the album flits and leaps in fits of airborne eclecticism, drawing from a gritty, post-punk past and infusing its sound with elements of psychedelia, electro-pop and swaggering art rock. While Mosquito may not be as coherent as the creative indie pop of Fever to Tell or the brash dance tunes from It’s Blitz!, it certainly doesn’t leave without a sting.
If ever there was a strong debut song, “Sacrilege” is it. Beginning with Karen O’s smooth croon over a single vibrating bass note with drums and light keys tinkling in the background, syncopated, staccato guitar notes sweep in, treble notes bending high. Through the chorus and second verse, Karen, Nick, and Brian keep things restrained, as if they’re holding back. And it seems they are—as the song progresses, it rushes headlong into a crescendo, a haunting gospel chorus giving it an apocalyptic, epic intensity, building and building until it ends in an overwhelming clash of interweaving voices. And it’s this incredible energy that makes the second track, “Subway,” stand out in stark contrast. Instead of the lush, in-your-face zeal of “Sacrilege,” there’s the spare, unassuming sound of the subway, of wheels spinning rhythmically over the rails, just Karen’s vocals and low guitar notes. “Subway” is a slow burner, where synths gradually pile on to the almost languid foundation of the bass, making you expect some kind of huge, cathartic climax. But that moment never comes: the guitars and bass and synths fade back into the sound of the rolling wheels, moving off into the distance.
While Mosquito opens with this impressive display of powerful, evocative songwriting, the rest of the album doesn’t quite reach the same level. The title track is appropriately edgy and theatrical—featuring fast, tribal percussion and Karen hissing and buzzing like a vampiric insect, a deliciously dark and hooky bass line creeps along as Karen repeats over and over, “They’ll suck your blood!” And perhaps this isn’t even a stretch for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, after the lycanthropic “Heads Will Roll” from It’s Blitz!. “Under the Earth” is a highlight as well, where a slinking, descending bass takes you slowly down into a hypnotic, dreamy landscape with spacey effects and Karen’s siren melodies. After that, though, Mosquito loses some of its luster. “Slave” is a little too messy, even for this album, and the uber-electronic “These Paths” passes by without making a mark. Even “Buried Alive,” which features a guest appearance from Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon, feels contrived. Rap may be a first for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but hopefully it’s the last. “Free yourself, that leash is long, long, long,” Karen drawls, but it sounds like a botched attempt at liberation—not quite something you’d except from a track produced by the legendary James Murphy (who, sadly, may have temporarily lost his edge in this instance).
But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do manage to redeem themselves, in the end, with “Despair” and “Wedding Song,” collectively two of the least clichéd songs about sadness and love. “Despair” could almost be a throwback to “Maps,” with its simple, bassy guitar riff and Karen’s rich, natural vocals. Mosquito might not be a striding leap forward for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but it’s still an enjoyable, interesting record that shows promise and versatility.