As you may or may not have read in our newswire yesterday, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album Mosquito was streaming at VICE’s Noisey site this afternoon. As we did with Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, we listened along and noted down our thoughts as the album unfolded. (Happily, this record wasn’t the interminable experience the JT album was.) Read our verdict after the jump.
“Sacrilege” OK, so, we’ve all heard this already. That quintessentially Yeah Yeah Yeahs-y vocal effect that’s slipped onto Karen O’s vocals at about 0:30, the super-catchy chorus, the gospel choir… as far as opening tracks go, it’s a pretty damn impressive way to start a record. The good folk of the Noisey Livestream are very excited: “Completely stoked for the @YYYs listening party,” proclaims one Dickso_nyu. “It’s like I have friends!”
“Subway” 0:01 OK, so, the first of the new tracks. And any New Yorker will recognize the sample that commences the song and remains rumbling away at the base of the mix throughout — it’s a subway train! And the song’s called “Subway”! What a concept!
0:05 This song is so New York it hurts: “I lost you on the subway car/ Got caught, caught, caught without my MetroCard/ Waiting, waiting for the express train/ Gonna catch up with you wherever you are…”
0:40 Seriously, though, this is really pretty, a quietly understated ballad that’s really just Karen O’s vocals and a quiet guitar accompaniment. And the J train.
2:00 It’s a very understated piece of work, just drifting along on long, atmospheric synth pads and the ubiquitous subway sample.
4:00 Drifting. Drifting. Clatter-clatter-clatter goes the train.
5:05 “Curiously downbeat moment for a second track… think something is about to explode?��� says ScriptLDN. You may well be right, ScriptLDN.
“Mosquito” 0:05 A pulsing bassline and congas introduce the title track, which is, indeed, a song about a mosquito — perhaps the heinous-looking creature that adorns the album cover? Seriously, that thing is terrifying.
0:27 The chorus: “I’ll suck your blood! I’ll suck your blood!” No quiet drifting on subway trains here, then.
0:45 “Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” goes Karen O. “Buzzzzzzzzzzz,” goes Nick Zinner’s guitar.
1:30 This is definitely old Yeah Yeah Yeahs-style action. It wouldn’t sound out of place on Fever to Tell. Three tracks so far, three very different moods. It all bodes well.
1:53 “They can see you/ But you can’t see them.” Mosquitos really are fucking horrible creatures, aren’t they?
2:30 “Karen O singing about sucking my blood? Yayah!.” says one William Everson. She’s also singing about “crawling between your legs [and] sticking it in your vein,” William. Settle down, now.
“Under the Earth” We’ve heard this one, too. No gospel choir, but some fairly choral backing vocals and, notably a very prominent bass sound. (If you missed the emergence of this new song onto the web a few days back, we direct you respectfully to our newswire.)
“Slave” 0:01 A creepy sample loop that sounds like it comes from a circus or something. A quietly pensive 4/4 bassline. Yes, more bass!
0:30 Nothing but bass, in fact! It’s a pretty funky bassline, too.
0:45 (And Karen O’s vocals, obviously. She’s singing about some sort of wacked-out S&M arrangement, by the sound of it — as the song title rather suggests. There are repeated references to “my slave.”)
1:10 Aha, here come the guitars. “It eats your soul/ Like tears you fall/ My slave.”
1:30 …and down goes the livestream. Curses.
1:40 Ah, we’re back. Karen’s singing “You keep me, keep me/ Your slave.” What is actually going on in this lyric? We’re not entirely sure. It sounds mildly unsavory, though.
2:35 “You keep me on the throne/ Heads down, all day.” Hmmmmm.
3:00 William Everson’s getting all hot under the collar. “If your not sweating yet, your not listening right.” Didn’t we already tell you to settle down once, William?
“These Paths” 0:01 Skittering hi-hats and synths.
0:20 Hmmm. Karen O’s singing “These paths rub off,” but it sounds rather like “these pants.” William Everson, look what you’ve done to us!
0:55 This is another slow-burner. It feels like a mid-album lull.
1:55 “These paths/ Come off.” Sigh.
2:05 “When is Karen O going to scream?” wonders a commenter by the name of Haint.
2:15 Right about… now!
2:40 We’ve always thought of Karen O as a performer first and foremost, rather than a memorable vocal stylist, but by god, she’s singing incredibly high here.
3:05 And even higher! Good grief.
3:13 “Take your peace.” Is she deliberately going for sonic double-entendres here, or what?
3:25 Extended flute and vocoder outro. Those are three words we never expected we’d write in relation to a Yeah Yeah Yeahs album.
“Area 52” 0:01 And now, a killer four-chord riff, a guitar figure that vaguely recalls “Rich,” and a song about… aliens!
0:30 This is all very Pixies-esque. It kinda reminds your correspondent of “The Happening,” and not just because of the subject matter.
0:45 “Take me as your passenger!”
1:00 Ah, this may explain the apparently unanimously rapturous reception for the record on the livestream: “Pretty lame that you’re deleting negative comments,” complains a YYY fan calling him/herself, um, “YYY fan.” “it’s not like i swore or anything.”
1:30 And the stream goes down again. Are the VICE internet wizards reading this, or what?
2:03 Back again. Along with “Mosquito,” this track is probably the closest we’ve heard thus far to the manic YYYs of old, a fact that hasn’t escaped our fellow listeners. “Area 52, classic Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” opines Gemma Brookes.
2:34 “Am i the only one who can hear crystal castles in this track? with the vocal changes?” asks alessoincrime. Well, yes.
“Buried Alive” (feat. Kool Keith) 0:01 Yes, “feat. Kool Keith.”
0:10 Wind tunnel guitars, and more pulsing bass. The bass is a real feature of this album, just like the synths were on It’s Blitz.
0:24 A guitar figure that sounds kind of like a fire alarm. This sounds pretty great thus far.
0:40 “Free yourself/ That leash is long, long, long.” Hmmm. We’re starting to sense some lyrical themes here.
1:35 Dr Octagon introduces himself by saying, “Dr Octagon.”
2:10 Kool Keith sounds as deranged as ever. He’s singing about “operating by the clock” and about “surgery to your head.” Would you let this man operate on your brain?
3:00 This is one of those tracks where the hip hop guest stands out like an NBA player visiting a primary school, and yet somehow the whole thing still works. Cf. REM’s “Radio Song”.
3:10 Extended 12″-esque breakdown. “I was buried alive,” sings Karen O repeatedly. The track slowly starts winding its way down into a sumptuous outro.
4:03 “Turn red. Turn red. Turn red.”
5:00 Is that… is that a digeridoo?
0:01 Timbales! Woozy synths! This sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs go to the beach!
0:30 Maybe this whole living-in-LA thing is having an effect on Karen O, although this sounds more like an extra six hours across the Pacific to Hawaii.
0:45 Yes, yes, waiter, bring me one of those drinks with an umbrella in it, if you’d be so kind.
1:00 “Always, always, always, always.”
2:00 “I’m going to guess it’s called ‘Always’?” snarks icanmakeyoufly on the livestream. He/she’s got a point, though — Karen O really is singing “Always” an awful lot at this point.
2:08 “That Karen O repetition that makes me want to pull out my hair sometimes,” says Derke.
3:00 OK, he has a point. This one is dragging a bit. It’s a minute shorter than “Buried Alive,” but feel longer.
3:45 I really would like one of those umbrella-y drinks, though.
0:01 OK, this sounds a bit less Balearic: a brooding, calm-before-the-storm intro. A restless click track.
0:30 “Don’t despair/ You were there from beginning to middle to end.” There’s a burgeoning epic feel to this track.
0:45 But wait, is she singing “Oh despair” or “Don’t despair”? It’s not entirely clear, and it changes the meaning of the song — if it’s former, this is a song about depression, and if the lattter, it’s a love song.
1:00 “Despair/ You’ve always been there/ Through all my wasted years/ Through all my lonely fears/ No tears/ Run through the fingers/ If it’s all in my head/ there’s nothing to fear/ Inside.”
2:00 OK, first impression is that this is a definite late-album highlight.
2:05 More lyrical ambiguity: “My sun/son? is your sun/son?” Again, it’s a subtle distinction but an important one. What does it all mean?
2:30 We’re pretty sure it’s “Oh, despair.” Oh, Karen O.
2:45 “You’re there through my wasted life.” Sadface.
3:30 Building to a big, big, big crescendo here. This really is quite an emotional piece of work.
4:00 “Near to tears,” says @Electroboy82 on the livestream. Well, yeah, actually.
“Wedding Song” 0:01 Birds! Aw, bless.
0:25 And finally, back to this album’s key musical feature: a brooding heartbeat of a bass sound.
0:30 (It sounds curiously like the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” but, um, let’s gloss over that fact.)
0:45 Wow, listen to what she’s singing here: “With every breath I breathe/ I’m making history/ With your name on my lips/ The ages fall to bits/ In flames I sleep soundly/ With angels around me/ I lay at your feet/ The breath that I breathe.”
1:15 The accompaniment is just that bass and piano. It’s minimalist and beautiful.
2:00 Aw, shit, she wasn’t kidding with the title of this song. It’s as nakedly heartfelt a lyric as Karen O’s written to date, even more so than “Maps.” She really seems to be laying herself bare with these last two songs, if you’ll excuse an awful music writer-y cliché.
2:20 “I’d die without you here.”
3:00 A long, slow guitar solo. And Brian Chase’s percussion is as understatedly effective as it’s ever been, a sort of marching band tempo that recalls the unlikely marching beat in The Devastations’ “Previous Crimes”.
4:25 Crickets. Literally.
4:45 Closing thoughts: “I can’t imagine this album getting them any new fans. The track with Kool Keith is the only one that doesn’t sound like the same old thing. Not bad by any means, but not particularly good either, IMHO,” says Derke. Why so durk, Derke?
4:50 Our friend William Everson is more upbeat: “They followed through and reinvented themselves, and created a fresh set of sounds, as they do with every album.”
4:55 And our verdict? Somewhere between the two, we’d say. This is a record that’s very good without being ground-breaking, but a solid B+ is more than enough to make this worth your time. It’s certainly been a fine way to spend our afternoon.