It would be all too easy for me to liken Karen O’s shrill voice to that of a mosquito and call it piercing and irritating, and, I’ll confess, that’s what I had in mind when I began Mosquito, the new album from indie-rock outfit the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Only a few songs from their discography — “Heads Will Roll”, “Maps”, and “Skeletons” — have ever really resonated with me; the rest of the songs I found rather prickly and annoying.
However, I cannot, in good conscience, say that Mosquito is annoying. On this album, Karen O and company have managed to polish and fine-tune their instrumentation so it fits Karen O’s voice. Perhaps this is due to the production assistance of LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, among others. Furthermore, her voice has never been put to better melodic use than here on Mosquito. The first half of the album does not contain a single song that isn’t directly infectious and couldn’t serve as the album’s lead single. The actual lead single, “Sacrilege”, features a hysteric repetition of a frenetic chorus that at some point transcends Karen O and becomes a pack of clapping gospel singers. “Sacrilege” is followed two songs later by the title track, which is the kind of song that gets stuck in your head even though you don’t want it to, and the album’s best song, “Under Earth”, which is always welcome in your head even when it refuses to leave.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also managed to strike a deft balance between too much experimentation and too much similarity between songs. There are enough “Sacrilege”s to go around, and most often they don’t come off as grating or repetitive in nature, with the exception of “Area 52”, which, despite being similar to the tracks around it, just doesn’t click. There are also, however, a number of ballads and alternative-style tracks such as the slow, rolling, excellent “Subway” and the bass-kicking “Wedding Song”. “In flames I sleep soundly / with angels around me,” Karen O breathes on “Wedding Song”; it’s remarkable how well “Wedding Song” can sleep soundly amidst so many flaming upbeat tracks.
Mosquito is one of those albums one cannot say much about — it won me over, even as a Yeah Yeah Yeahs skeptic, but I’m not sure how well Karen O will be able to convince others who’ve never made it beyond the mega-hit “Maps”. For those already attuned to their discography, however, Mosquito is without a doubt a solid effort that reaches to a comfortable height (“Buried Alive” seamlessly dives into a rap feature from Dr. Octagon) and when it falls falls gracefully. A more suitable mosquito-comparison would be a mention of the fact that the album’s best songs infect a listener like West Nile. Score: 7.5/10.
Best Songs: “Sacrilege”, “Under The Earth”, “Despair”, “Wedding Song”
Worst Songs: “Always”, “Area 52”
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor