(Interscope Records, 2013)
(Image from wikipedia.org)
I’ve got to keep my eye (or, rather, ear) on Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The last I checked in with them was, admittedly, 2006’s Show Your Bones, where they had simmered the wildfire that was their debut album (2003’s Fever To Tell) down to a more precise blaze, eschewing the wilder parts of their sound for focused riffs and stronger melodies. They still, however, kept their guitar-drums-vocals punk instrumentation intact. A mere seven years later, I stumble onto Mosquito and find codas jammed with choral vocals (“Sacrilege”), a simmering slow-burner set to the beat of the clack of a subway train (“Subway”) and electronic beats all the while? You can’t go home again.
That’s not to say the urgency of the early albums is lost – the title track, under layers of guitars and, of all things, bass moves along at quite a clip, with Karen O as the master of ceremonies, as always. Gone are the shrieks and the orgasmics of the band’s early days, but certainly not her energy dynamics – she’ll still place a whisper where you expect bombast or twist a phrase up into her nasal sneer when she sees fit. But as the sound of the band introduces more and more instruments and techniques, and overlap further and further with some of the other electronic/synth acts of the day (Metric in particular comes to mind), her vocals as a focal point become increasingly important to hang onto. “Slave” opens with a loop of what sounds like horns honking, followed by a smooth, kinetic bassline and drum machine smacks going off every which way (the instrumentation of the band turned inside-out), but it serves to underpin the vocals just as deftly.
That’s not to say that Nick Zinner can’t come up with a good riff or three any longer. On “These Paths”, an incessant, ghostly synth line sets the tone and haunts the rest of the song as the other elements slowly build, causing a hiccup in the percussion in the beginning every time it occurs (to which the beats eventually become immune). The line is not the pinhole path that would take you through the song in the band’s early days on a jagged riff, but a noted presence nonetheless, around which the whole feel and energy of the song emanates – the race to the end has been cancelled and the participants all sit in a circle trying to come to terms with their feelings.
It would seem that Yeah Yeah Yeahs have, as one does with age, become more thoughtful in their approach, and gone from freewheeling 2-minute raucous rides to a more atmospheric feeling – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Each distant echo, strange beat and synth patch plants their stake further in the ground; their sound infinitely more personalized than a straight drum beat and power chords with the occasional riff. They’ve moved, in the interim during which I wasn’t listening, from a small excursion into punk for me and plunked themselves down again amid the formidable indie electronic/synth acts of today that I find on my rotation quite regularly. This a great document of a band moving and progressing with the times while keeping the flavour that got them noticed in the first place.