- Yeah Yeah Yeahs
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.
MORE NEW RELEASES
- Wakin on a Pretty Daze
- Kurt Vile
If one wishes to know about Kurt Vile, the concluding track off his latest album gets to the man. Goldtone is balmy, stoned and vibrophoned. "I might be adrift, but I'm still alert," he slackly explains. "Concentrate my hurt into a gold tone." The reclined Philadelphian makes a hazy, languid sort of rock – Tom Petty in a codeine dream. There's more ambient textures on Wakin on a Pretty Daze than his previous work, but it is mostly the type of record we've come to expect from the long-haired tripster. KV Crimes has a gritty riff to its casual strut, with lyrics on dejection and hearts that are too big for their own good. Girl Called Alex uses a Wurlitzer for a spaced-out vibe. All told, good as gold. – Brad Wheeler
- Domenico Scarlatti: Scarlatti Illuminated
- Joseph Moog, piano
Domenico Scarlatti wrote 555 ingenious, one-of-a-kind sonatas for keyboard, aptly labelled "happy freaks" by one of his contemporaries. Performances on modern piano rarely do justice to them, especially the sonatas inspired by Spanish guitar and folk music, where the bright sparkle and splash of a harpsichord is far more thrilling. But by exploiting the resources of the piano in the same way that Scarlatti exploited those of the harpsichord, arrangements by late romantic, virtuoso pianists restore what's missing: delight and astonishment. Just as Liszt and Busoni left the 18th century behind in their arrangements of Bach, so do Walter Gieseking, Ignaz Friedman and Carl Tausig here, expanding range, modernizing harmonies, and piling up technical fireworks and volume. Beware, though: Pianist Joseph Moog also gives us virgin Scarlatti, and it's not as much fun. – Elissa Poole
- Beautiful Africa
- Rokia Traoré
A Malian living in exile in Paris, Rokia Traoré sings of Africa in three languages: Bambara, French and English. But you needn't speak any of those to appreciate the way her songs intermingle joy and longing, nostalgia and pride. On the gently loping Mélancolie, she addresses sadness as an old friend, singing "Mélancolie, compagnon fidèle de ma solitude" with unfeigned affection. And when, after commanding "méloncolie, danse avec moi," she unleashes a tart, chittering guitar solo that swirls and dips with ineffable grace, it's hard not to envy her closeness with the emotion. Songwriting so evocative is rare enough, but guitar playing of this calibre is near miraculous. – J.D. Considine