Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Mosquito' is their best overall effort

Karen O performs at the Coachella music festival on Friday.

Associated Press

Karen O performs at the Coachella music festival on Friday.

Art-pop trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs start with a foundation of distress and build from there. Sometimes there's a small gust of relief blowing through the NYC band's anxious songs, as on 2003 breakout single Maps and its pleading refrain "Wait! They don't love you like I love you!"

But more often than not, their manic energy heightens and swarms, such as on '09's unlikely dance hit Heads Will Roll and its odd synth-punk demand: "Off with your head! Dance 'til your dead!"

On epically minded new album Mosquito, their fourth and finest overall effort, the YYYs' varying degrees of unsettlement are once again juiced by metronomic rock drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner, who wields his instrument like a bug-eyed man in a knife fight. Still, there's no mistaking who the sparking live wire is driving this inventive, infectious crew of misfits: that fascinating worrywart Karen O, arguably the greatest frontwoman of her generation.

For some of you, O is best known as the banshee who joined Trent Reznor for a hair-raising cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song on the opening credits of David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There are times her howl got so high on that incendiary rendition, she made Robert Plant sound like Louis Armstrong.

On Mosquito's first cut and lead single, Sacrilege, O is seemingly subdued, opening with a deceptive mid-range coo ("Fallen for a guy / Who fell down from the sky"). Soon enough, though, Zinner and Chase pierce the balloon and O's vocal takes off in a shrieking panic. Upping the ante even more, the YYYs end Sacrilege with a wailing 20-piece gospel choir coda. And that's just the first three minutes, 50 seconds.

O & Co. ease up on the next song — well, kind of. Subway is slow and uneasy. With rackety train effects tunneling through the moody track, O embraces a neo-torch delivery as she loses her man on the metro, maybe for good. Sans love or security (or at least the facade of each) she fails to recognize herself: "Look at you, whoever you are." When the crowd starts to stare at her, it all enters eerie David Lynch territory. Even with the brakes on, the YYYs can steal your breath.

O started her career as a raven-haired, ripped-fishnets wild child with dangerous mood swings. She's platinum blond now, married, a better dresser. But her uniquely elastic voice, and those moods, continue to thrash with animalistic abandon, from Mosquito's taunting title track to Bowie-esque rumination Slave to '80s New Wave-y These Paths.

Produced by TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek, each song is layered, and layered again, with headphone effects and sonic surprises (rapper Dr. Octagon on Buried Alive). If there's a complaint it's that Sitek doesn't provoke O into going off the rails enough.

Still, you can't complain about the album's finale of Despair and Wedding Song, the prettiest 10 minutes in the YYYs' catalog, a gauzy sea of crescendoes, rippling guitar and femme fatale Karen O reaching through the haze for some relief from this nervous life. Is it wrong to hope she never quite finds it?

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com.

.fast facts

Know your YYYs

Music critics are notorious freaks for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and yet in this hipster case, we're not wrong! If you want to cherry-pick from the trio's earlier albums (and you should), here are three cool places to start:

1. Date With the Night (from 2003's Fever to Tell) Maps was the "hit" from the YYYs debut, and rightly so: Karen O's torchy-punky delivery is heartbreaking. But Date With the Night displays the band blowing off their pent-up rage in a ragged inferno.

2. Phenomena (from 2006's Show Your Bones) The band's sophomore album is an experimental hit-or-miss, but this heavy-duty midtempo grinder has booming walls of 'tude, especially O's sorta-rap come-on.

3. Zero (from 2009's It's Blitz) Sometimes music critics do so much bloviating, we forget a crucial point: The YYYs are FUN. The trio's third album was a Blondie-esque dancer, especially this swirling, throbbing club cut.

Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Mosquito' is their best overall effort 04/22/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 9:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Blake High grad Taylor Trensch lands lead role in 'Dear Evan Hansen' on Broadway

    Stage

    For those who saw Taylor Trensch grow up in Tampa, his rise from promising student to star is heartwarming and entirely predictable. In January, Trensch, 28, will be moving into the title role of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway, one of the hottest tickets in theater.

    Taylor Trensch, a 2007 Blake High graduate, will play the title role in Broadway's Dear Evan Hansen. Courtesy of Frank Trensch.
  2. A scene from "Epiphany."
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 22

    Events

    Clearwater Jazz Holiday: The Avett Brothers: The Avett Brothers, with their blend of folk, bluegrass and rock, lead the lineup. 1:30 p.m., Coachman Park, 301 Drew St., Clearwater. $16 per day, $45 reserved, $170 VIP. (727) 461-5200.

    AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 15:  (L-R)  Joe Kwon, Bob Crawford, Seth Avett, and Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers pose for a portrait at the "May It Last: A Portrait Of The Avett Brothers" Premiere - 2017 SXSW Conference and Festivals on March 15, 2017 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SXSW)
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Oct. 21

    Events

    Conor Oberst: The Bright Eyes mastermind will be joined by opener, the Felice Brothers. 8 p.m., Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $30.50-$36. (727) 791-7400.

    Handout photo of Conor Oberst, performing Oct. 21 at the State Theatre in St. Petersburg. Credit: Grandstand Media
  5. McDonald's soft serve in Florida is made with handshakes and happy cows

    Consumer

    Floridians licked nine million McDonald's vanilla cones last year.

    Calves play with a rubber toy at the Milking R Dairy in Okeechobee, FL. Owners Sutton Rucks, Jr., and his wife Kris Rucks sell their milk to SouthEast Dairies cooperative, Edward Coryn of Dairy Mix in St. Petersburg buys it, transforms it into soft-serve ice cream base, and sells it to all the McDonald's. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times