Review: Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Mosquito
I could speak glowingly of the New York triad forevermore and still not have said enough. They were the first cool band I liked (except for Destiny’s Child, and yes Destiny’s Child IS cool). They also allowed me, who had never sung in front of anyone since childhood, to join the collaborative elite of last year’s VIVID show Stop The Virgens. Thanks to Karen’s creative vision I was singing on stage at the Opera House, amongst a cast of Sydney’s most talented women and the world’s coolest people. Since then I’ve become more involved with making music and writing about music than I ever thought I would be. So while I am very tempted to make this review a love-letter, I’ll attempt some objective integrity (pfft).
I resigned myself to thinking that Fever To Tell would be the most thrilling of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s products. My older (cooler) sister played that record to me in pre-pubescence – to shape my music taste for the better and my attitude for the worse. It was fearless and gritty and most of all loud. And throughout consecutive releases I was always awaiting something as wonderfully weird as Man and beautifully brash as Black Tongue. But the real value of any band is evolution, and I needed to put my stubborn punk sensibilities aside to acknowledge this. Karen, Nick and Brian no longer make the haphazard music I grew up with, but it remains as carefully crafted and thoughtfully honed as its forbearer Maps.
The thing I enjoy most about this album is its variation. There’s a lot of experimentation in Mosquito; and it’s mostly stylistic. I feel this is a gutsy move; the trio flicker between so many genres it’s hard to find a definitive train of thought. This could easily seem indecisive or even gimmicky, but instead there’s a decisiveness; as though The YYY’s have each bought their separate ideas to the table. You can tell the members have gone away and experimented individually, and these factors have influenced their common work.
There are tracks with greater staying power than others, and each with a completely different air.
Sacrilege, the album’s opening track and first release, is well-trod territory by now. Karen’s pained howling, the ominous bass and the climactic gospel choir; my god it’s genius. The choir’s vocal arrangement is a product of the amazing Debra Barsha, and the choral work gave me a conniption during the first listen. It takes the whole song to a completely new place, and uncharted territory for The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. Fuck.
Barsha is also hard at work during Under The Earth. The bass comes to the forefront of this song, despite The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s being notoriously bass-less. I’m of the staunch belief that cowbell is a sure-fire way of making a song better, and the choir work is delicate and discreet – you could almost confuse it for mere synth. It’s sexy and menacing and a definite favourite.
Though I’ve never really known Karen O to be so literal with her lyricism, if she’s talking about what I think she’s talking about during Despair I will cry as much as I did the first time I heard it. Yeah I cried. Shut up. It’s hopeful but pained, building for almost two minutes before Chase pounds climatically at the toms. And with lyrics such as “oh despair, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’re there through my wasted years, through all of my lonely fears,” you’d cry too, you heartless bastard.
Mosquito and Area 52 hint at the band’s punk origins, and both are driving, cheeky, energetic, and cleverly made.
Album dark horse is Buried Alive featuring Dr. Octagon. Knowing it was aided in production by Sam Spiegel (Squeak E Clean of N.A.S.A) and James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem), this was always going to be a new departure for The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. It’s on a similar vein as These Paths, which uses a hip-hop beat and something close to dub in the post-production. It sets a sombre tone, with a vicious guitar which careens into the chorus and Dr. Octagon’s rap interlude.
Rounding off Mosquito is Wedding Song. It’s genial and softly uplifting, a wholesome close to an album with such varied tone.
A band with this many releases, constant reinterpretations, transitions and experimentations is always going to arouse comparison. Is this album better than the first/second/third and the different atmospheres associated with each? I think this is unimportant – they are different, and there’s an art in that itself. After ten years Nick Karen and Brian are still attempting new things and avoiding a step back to former victories. This album may lack cohesion at times, but at least there’s excitement in the number of ideas amassed in Mosquito.
And yes, I am biased. But this album is good.
Words by Bianca Cornale.