Critical Voices: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito

April 17, 2013

Though their usual musical nuance is missing throughout most of their fourth album, Mosquito is the kind of eccentric experimentation that could only come from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. While it lacks the clear highlights of prior albums, such as “Maps” from the now decade-old Fever to Tell, Mosquito is not without its moments—but listeners will have to scratch beyond the surface to discover these glimmers of artistic success.

“Sacrilege” kicks off the recording with the standard layering of Karen O’s peculiar whispered screeches. With perhaps the strongest instrumental presence in an otherwise primarily-synthesized project, as common for the YYYs, the opening drums and consistent baseline are a strong musical backdrop for the steady, yet frantic buildup to the final coda, in which a gospel choir makes a powerful and uncharacteristic appearance.

The title track, “Mosquito,” begins with a mesmerizing cadence, and it’s not until Karen O’s scratchy voice breaks into the chorus (“I’ll suck your blood!”) that the listener realizes the absurdity of this song. Even with a valiant vocal effort to make it work, there’s only so much you can do with a song in which the strongest lyrical moment is “Mosquito sing, mosquito cry / Mosquito live, mosquito die,” and its use as the title track makes its shortcomings even harder to ignore. As if the literalism of “Mosquito” wasn’t enough, after listening to “Area 52,” a playful yet perplexing assertion of wanting to be an alien, the immediate reaction is, “Go home, Karen O, you’re drunk.”

Mosquito does produce a few gems, however. The poignant sounds of “Subway,” which effectively uses the subtle, soothing hum of an actual subway train as its percussion line, echo the hypnotizing reverberations of “Maps.” The track is a flicker of artistic beauty on a record severely lacking conceptual splendor. “Despair” and “Wedding Song” also stand out as touching moments, as they reveal O’s emotional fatigue and bliss, respectively.

If nothing else, Mosquito provides the opportunity for fans to once again embrace the juxtaposition of tranquility and freneticism that is Karen O’s voice. As the bonus acoustic version of “Wedding Song” clearly reminds us, vocal talent like hers just might be enough to allow the unconventional trio to get away with the questionable musical choices made in creating this oddity of an album. And, let’s be honest, with a group like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, we’ve always been conditioned to expect the unexpected.

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