The cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ latest suggests some sort of freaky Zappa-esque musical free-for-all, which isn’t too far off from where Karen O, Brian Chase and Nick Zinner (along with returning producers Nick Launay and Dave Sitek) are at on their fourth and prerequisite “we can do all sorts of stuff” album. A self-described attempt at a “soul record,” Mosquito marries the group’s strengths—O’s postured but endearingly child-like je ne sais quoi, Nick’s ear for buzzy guitar understatements and Brian’s, um, more than suitable drumming—with a broader sonic palette; dabbling in gospel, roots reggae, druggy groove pop and dreamy post-punk without ever really establishing its own identity or thematic through-line.
That said, it’s certainly never boring—sounding all over the place, as it were, means Mosquito finds the Yeah Yeah Yeahs returning to the coarse garage punk grind of their early work (the title track’s “I’ll suck your blood!” refrain feels ripped from the pre-Fever To Tell days) and experimenting with gorgeously lush soundscapes (a pair of late album highlights, “Always” and “Wedding Song,” feel like the prettier second and third installments to Karen O’s “love trilogy” that started so brilliantly with “Maps”) and dense but fluttery art collage arrangements (handled, more of then than not, with Sitek at the helm). The flipside to that, however, are songs like the meanderingly spacey “These Paths” and the oddly (in a bad way) Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon) featuring “Buried Alive,” produced by James Murphy but lacking the frenetic urgency of his own work.
Mosquito, ultimately, feels like a collection of highs and lows—the cathedral sweep of lead single “Sacrilege” juxtaposed with the stagnant, futuristic country/western vibes of “Despair,” for instance. But even at their most “meh,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs bring that same endearing enthusiasm that’s always injected a little extra (and sometimes much needed) cheer to the proceedings. “With every breath I breathe, I’m making history,” Karen O coos towards the end—it’s hard not to believe her. Though it never seems to gel as a cohesive whole, Mosquito proves that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs haven’t stopped rethinking, retooling or re-imagining their sound and haven’t forgotten how to write a ribcage-tearingly profound love song… when they aren’t singing about space aliens and bloodthirsty insects, that is. Long story short, The Yeah yeah yeahs are back and that’s a good thing.