April 7, 2013

Album Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito

Yeah Yeah Yeahs are the exact type of alternative band we should be pushing to become an arena-sized in success worthy of headlining every major headlining festival out there, but because we live in a world where dumbed-down rock is the only way to fill seats, that's unlikely to happen in today's corpse of a music industry. The wildly popular NYC trio have frustratingly been circling around the fringes of this for far too long despite possessing everything they need to make it happen: A stylishly eclectic and fiercely entertaining frontwoman in Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase's laser-sharp guitar and percussion work and collectively, and the trio's adventurous appetite to transform their sound in ways that should make go-to alt-rock intellectuals Radiohead blush. It's a credit to them that they've put their creative ambitions ahead of their bottom line, because the option is probably there if they want to take advantage of it. On their fourth long-player Mosquito, a grande display of artful pop-rock cements the fact that the Yeah Yeahs are comfortably numb with their spot as sonic renegades a few steps ahead of their curve whose next move is rarely the most predictably commercial one.

It makes for quite the double-edged sword, as Mosquito is a formidable addition to any artist's catalog, yet it isn't likely to get them any farther than where they are today as a Coachella subheadliner for the third straight time despite being pseudo-indie vets who outlived NYC's trendy garage rock hissings of the early millennium by turning themselves inside-out and revealing their inner glow on their easily indulged efforts in 2006's Show Your Bones and 2009's It's Blitz!. Mosquito's pop simply doesn't bite like the rest, making up for it by thoughtfully provoking the rock 'n roll dream with glamorous, technically-refined corners their deepest-thinking loyalists will find value in. Much of this has to do with who they've teamed up with in the studio this time around, choosing fellow five borough dweller Dave Sitek of TV On the Radio (curiously, a band with just as much critically acclaimed juice in their system and similarly teeter the line of commercial appeal,) fashionable British post-punk producer Nick Launay (Public Image Ltd., every Nick Cave project) and yes, even a dream match-up with LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy.

The Sitek / Launay combo take all but one credit, resulting in big-sided slants on weirding out listeners, pulling through in that regard surprisingly with balance and composure. Its dramatic glam-gospel opener "Sacrilege" sets a hyperbolistically anti-climactic pace immediately followed by fully-fleshed yet muted journeys such as "Subway," the ghost-trotting "Under the Earth" or the terrifying quivering in the Crystal Castle-ized electro-clasher "These Paths" where minimizing multi-instrumentation powerfully undermines the band's characteristically louder guitar rock ways with just the right amount of forward-thinking vision. On the contrary, resurrecting the trio's primitive Fever to Tell days on "Mosquito" or "Area 52" plays like a forced rehashing of their past, rendering cartoonish results both lyrically and stylistically worthy of the album's cover art. Murphy's Dr. Octagon-guesting contribution "Buried Alive" follows the latter, and is at best a fun discofied punk jam on a multi-dimensional LP in which Kool Keith's extraterrestrial persona guest spot validates "Area 52"'s existence altogether while in no way adding anything to the LCD Soundsystem frontman's legacy behind the boards.

The buzz on Mosquito is that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs respectably maintain their position as a trying bunch of colorful expressionists who continue using their position flying below the surface of modern rock radio glory to fund their unconventional art pop-rock explorations. The sweet stings of accessibility don't itch the skin as immediately as they have in the past as far as strong singles go, and given that's where the chronically evolving trio tend to get listeners off on each effort, it's missing that part of the greater whole. For all of its theatrical posturings which Karen O, Zinner and Chase admittedly do an interesting job replicating in the reflection of their own image, the idea that Mosquito might transfigure the Yeah Yeah Yeahs into rock gods plays out more like a fun fantasy filled with costume changes and eye-catching special effects (under the direction of the album's highly capable producers) than a serious attempt to accept it as who they want to be from this day on.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito will be released April 16, 2013 on Interscope Records.

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