It’s funny that the opening track on this album is called “Sacrilege” because that’s what I initially felt about this album. Oh, like the rest of the world, I thought “Sacrilege” was a fantastic track. It’s truly amazing, the way it builds and builds, becoming something greater and more emotive as it goes on, and then, finally, you get a choir singing along, intensifying things even more. It’s definitely one of the best songs I’ve heard all year. But then I heard the rest of the album and I was shocked. What were they doing to themselves? Who is the intended audience for this? I just couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. I almost felt like “Sacrilege” was false advertising, like they gave us one good song so we’d buy the album, thinking it was going to be in that vein and thus be great, but, nope, sorry, do not pass go, ride the “Subway.”
But I’ve liked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for years, so after taking a little time away from it I eventually revisited the album. And I kind of feel like I get it now. Initially, I couldn’t believe they put such a slow song like “Subway” as track two after “Sacrilege,” but then it dawned on me that they’d probably done that deliberately to throw people for a loop. I started looking at the album like a challenge, as though it was a puzzle that the band had laid out for me to make. If I listened to it over and over again, I would figure it out. I would finally get the joke. And now that I’ve heard it a dozen times, I’m quite fond of “Subway.” If nothing else, it’s a very interesting track because the percussion is actually the sound of a subway clattering along the rails. Clearly the most unique percussion since Charlotte Gainsbourg’s “IRM,” which used the sound of an MRI machine for percussion. Also, “Subway” is a great track for zoning out, Karen O’s vocals on the track being super airy and dreamy and the subway sounds being entirely hypnotic. If I had to categorize it, I’d probably call it shoegaze.
“He’ll suck your blood,” Karen O sings, practically screaming, during “Mosquito” and it’s clear that she’s having a lot of fun with it. Oh, there’s an intensity to the way she’s singing it and I’m sure she’s making some sort of point, that the mosquito represents government or paparazzii or something like that, but there’s no law that says you can’t make a statement and have a fucking blast at the same time and I just happen to think she’s really enjoying herself from the style of her vocals here.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Buried Alive” featuring Dr. Octagon, which was superbly produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame and TV on the Radio’s David Sitek. (Sitek co-produced most of the album along with the band.) “Free yourself, that leash is long, long, long,” Karen O sings, her voice ever-so-trippy, like she’s just downed a bottle of codeine and is about to pass out. As the song goes on, she repeats the lyric with more intensity, as though she’s trying really, really hard to resist the codeine. “I was buried alive,” she adds, though she sounds like she still is. As for Dr. Octagon’s hip-hop parts, his lyrics talk about chemicals and being hypnotized and such, fitting the vibe of the song perfectly, so kudos to him. One also has to give kudos to guitarist Nick Zinner, who lays down some scathing riffs here, meaning that the riffs are ferocious enough to tear your very soul apart. At first listen, they might seem out of place in the swirly song, but I happen to think that they provide a nice contrast, giving the song added depth and emotion.
Other highlights include the beautifully melancholic “Despair,” the raw as sandpaper ode to aliens that is “Area 52” and the drum ‘n’ bass-inspired “These Paths.”
Being so experimental, Mosquito might not be a love-at-first-listen sort of album, but it does become more accessible with each listen. It truly is an emotional work of art that overflows with color, weight and drama and it’s a puzzle well worth solving, an album worth investing in. In fact, it’s one to bask in.