Karen O, the exquisite banshee, spoke to Billboard magazine about things lacking in modern music. “Where has all the charisma and the sexuality and the gnarl gone?” she wondered. It’s a good question, in these days of beats and braggadocio, earnestness and Mumford vests, and whatever it is that Perry, Bieber and Swift are getting away with.
Mosquito, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ fourth album – the previous three all earned alt-music Grammy nominations – is all about bringing the charisma, sexuality and gnarl back into the fray, according to the singer O. Do the Yeahs succeed? Yes, not really and occasionally, when it comes to those three things. And in response to O and the trio’s motivations involved with Mosquito, I have a question for them: Where has all the Yeah Yeah Yeah-ness gone?
Mosquito is a good record. Eleven tracks proper (plus a few tack-ons) and wacky-great album art involving a baby in distress and a blood-sucking insect. Long-time YYYs collaborator David Andrew Sitek and the in-demand Nick Launay are again on board as co-producers, with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy chipping in. Mosquito experiments, but doesn’t often hook or rock. Sounds like Metric on ecstasy. Sacrilege, you say? Exactly.
Sacrilege, the song, is the lead single and an eye-popping opening track. It’s a heavy hitter – a whisper-to-wail, gospel-funk, hands-up, snakes-charmed, full-choir-outro exclamation.
It’s an outlier, though, Sacrilege. The rest of the album is stylish and often minimally arranged. There’s nothing so pop-savvy as the 2009 hit Zero, and subgenres shift from track to track. Occasionally, the chic electro-pop manner of Purity Ring or Grimes is detected.
There are also a couple of glammy-punky numbers, one of them being a great, humid, stomping title track that will have you swatting the back of your sweaty neck instinctively. Area 52, with its escalating riff, punks it up too – CBGB meets Star Wars heebie-jeebies. If not gnarl, at least snarl.
Elsewhere, we have the synth-tripped psychedelia of These Paths. Its impact is negligible.
With its surf-guitar twang and mounting tension, Despair is much more attractive. It concerns the facing of gloom, and carries a fear-is-nothing-to-fear message. O sings high and in a comforting way, about darkness and the sharing of light.
Always is a shimmering, minor-key number with a magical glow. It feels and sounds like a glimmering portal one is instinctively drawn to. This is the charisma of which O spoke. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a lot
of that, and it is always in fashion.
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