Plotting the evolution of Yeah Yeah Yeahs across the three previous records has meant following a story of growing confidence, lessening gimmicks and an impressive exhibition of embracing the uniqueness of their early days, while never relying on that or becoming a pale imitations of themselves. Now as I hit their fourth album, released a decade after their first, we’re hitting the kind of age when dialling things down too much could turn into becoming old and boring. But with the goodwill established be the earlier albums, I had high hopes for Mosquito.
High hopes supported straight away with Sacrilege. That great Yeah Yeah Yeahs industrial tinged sound, complimented by a gospel choir. Not a combination I ever would have predicted, but a combination that works surprisingly well. Speaking of surprisingly effective combinations, following Sacrilege with Subway is a massive mood shift that would seem jarring and even off putting on paper, but in practice, they fit just right. Karen O’s haunting vocals over a rhythm set by a literal subway train rattling along the rails, it’s minimalist, but smothering at the same time.
At first, the experimental, almost avant garde feel of the title track had me a little concerned. But when Mosquito hits its stride, the driving bass, sexed up vocals and overdriven guitars are Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their best. After the synth heavy, guitar light sound of It’s Blitz! (which I liked), the more guitar driven sound of this record is a welcome return. There are still plenty of electronic and synthetic sounds, but the guitars, and increased level of bass guitar, ad a nice organic roughness and dirtiness on songs like Mosquito and Under the Earth.
But when things do go completely digital, they’re still pretty great. These Paths is an ethereal sound with a dark edge the makes it just a little haunting. But things go from pretty great to out and out amazing on Area 52. I can’t think of many bands, who after a decade and four albums, have all of a sudden thrown in a song that could be my favourite in their catalogue, but Area 52 is a pseudo sci-fi piece of straight up rock and roll that might just be the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs song ever.
With a guitar reminiscent of a western, and a monotonous, driving, simple drum loop that could be considered the equivalent of torture under certain circumstances, Despair keeps every piece of instrumentation at the bare minimum, letting Karen O’s voice take centre stage and full control. Even when things get louder, fuller and less in the background, O’s voice has already set the precedent of driving this song, and it’s impossible for anything else to outshine the front woman.
I went into this Yeah Yeah Yeahs binge with positive expectations, but nothing too high. Now that I’ve reached the end, not only did it exceed my positive but not too high expectations, it blew them out of the water. Over 10 years and four albums, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have grown so consistently, that Mosquito is the sound of a band who initially relied so much on uninhibited rawness, that now can rely on a decade of learning how to harness and shape that rawness for even better results.