Review Summary: A return to form.
It’s been a long, long time since we heard from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Four years ago, the group released their third album, the glittering It’s Blitz! with an agenda: they wanted to take the charts. Indeed, it was brimming with sure-fire chart successes waiting to happen – ‘Zero’, ‘Heads Will Roll’, ‘Skeletons’ – but it simply didn’t happen, the best of those stalling at #49 in the UK. It took the group four years to decide where to go next – whether to have another bash at mainstream success or return to their alt-rock roots. They’ve actually chosen secret option three: Mosquito is stripped-down, synth-dashed indie-rock – and it’s incredibly good fun.
The group have gone for a lo-fi aesthetic across the record. From the get-go it’s clear the group are keen to wipe away the pomp of It’s Blitz! on leading single ‘Sacrilege’. Karen O’s vocals are distorted, the instrumentation kept simple and left pretty bare. The drum-machines that dominated the group’s previous album remain, but again they’re thinner, and delightfully tinny. Even softer ballads like ‘Subway’ are built around purposefully simplistic rhythms from entry-level drum machines. ‘Mosquito! Mosquito!’ whispers Karen ominously set to jungle beats on the album’s title track, but it’s not always this urgent – there’s the beautiful ‘Wedding Song’ which lulls the album to a close. The vocalist’s full range is utilised, the trippy ‘Slave’ filled with trademark wails – that track is also one of the few obvious cuts of another Yeah Yeah Yeahs staple – a delightful Nick Zinner guitar riff. The whole record comes together well as a cohesive record, and Brian Chase’s percussion is similarly energised. Whereas It’s Blitz! was at times calculated and robotic (which was it’s intention), Mosquito feels like more of a human effort – tracks rise and fall more naturally, and the likes of ‘Area 52′ recall the band’s playful and more abrasive side – something we haven’t really seen since their first EP in 2001. As a result it’s dirty basslines and spiky choruses are much more involving; Mosquito’s aesthetic is a distinctive one in the group’s catalogue.
Above all else, Mosquito strikes you as being a reaction to everything the group saw unfold since 2009. It’s a bold album, with much more character than the group’s previous efforts. You get the sense that Karen, Zinner and Chase have needed these four years to fall back in love with what they do, and with Mosquito as the end product that’s four years well spent. It’s a revitalised return to form and that’s largely down to the decision to strip everything back and start again. Indeed, in returning to the days when perhaps all they could afford was crappy drum-machines and dreadful keyboards, they’ve recaptured the inspiration that made them such an interesting and distinctive group way back in 2001.