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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito Swats At New Styles

Apr 18, 2013 | Updated Jun 18, 2013

Ten years have passed since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' breakout debut LP, Fever To Tell. A decade in the dynamic and unforgiving music business may as well be twenty years, and the trio could have easily fallen into obsolescence like many of their early-'00s garage-revival peers. Instead, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs find their way into the conversation once again and prove that they're certain to enjoy longevity. As they recognize their strengths and fight the odds, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs shed their impish punk skin in favor of exploring uncharted territory.

Don't let the comically grotesque cover art fool you- the New York art-punks turn in their most mature effort yet with Mosquito. Listening to the record is an altogether sobering experience for longtime fans, especially who hoped frontwoman Karen O would unleash bratty lyrical gems akin to "Boy you such a stupid bitch and girl you just a no good dick" from Fever To Tell's "Black Tongue." Instead, the LP touches on subjects such as everlasting fidelity ("Always"), moral inequities ("Sacrilege"), and burdensome significant others ("Mosquito"). Sonically, Mosquito swats at new styles as well. As with their previous LP It's Blitz!, the group accents synths over guitars. Their tracks also enjoy breathing room as opposed their usually tight-knit song structure, giving opportunities for Karen O's evolving vocal techniques and the band's unhinged instrumentation.

While not all of the songs on Mosquito reach the creative zenith as the best moments on Fever To Tell, hardly any of them give you the idea that the band is only willing to stay within their comfort zone. This approach isn't always successful: "Area 52" is the worst kind of Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, with its oafish lyrics ("Message came from outer space/ Future of the human race") inducing serious eye rolls as its garish synthesizers and bleeps wash out Karen O's puckish squeals. "Buried Alive" is the umpteenth example of rock and hip-hop mixing worse than vodka and milk, and forces you to question why anyone would pay for a Kool Keith verse in 2013, even when he plays the persona of his beloved time-traveling alien Dr. Octagon.

But magic happens when the trio push themselves into the realm of good taste, and it would be an understatement to say that album opener "Sacrilege" is one of their career highlights; it's one of the strongest songs of the young year, backed by a shimmering gospel choir and guitarist Nick Zinner's intuitive guitar cuticles. Additionally, "Subway" rides a soft and wistful melody that would make even the staunchest hard rock stalwarts swoon. "Despair" is a poignant ballad about unrequited love, maybe their best composition since their crying-into-a-pillow classic, "Maps."

Altogether, Mosquito is a flawed but promising record that suggests an imminent transition is underway. On their finest and most shrewdly sequenced LPs, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs find a way to channel their wild party frolics and couple it with a disarming look into a meaningful new life beyond those antics. Mosquito is a valiant attempt to crystallize that new life into a moving musical statement, and though it doesn't succeed on all fronts, it parses together enough highlights to become a record as infectious as the repelling, biohazard insect on the cover.

Check out lyrics and annotations for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito on Stereo IQ