Donning a canary yellow suit with rhinestones, studs and flower patches and a long zebra-printed cape, Karen O, frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, took the stage recently at New York City's Webster Hall to preview some of the songs from the band's new album, Mosquito. As someone fortunate enough to get her hands on one of the prized tickets to that show, I had the honor of watching one of the best rock shows I've seen in a long time.
Karen O on stage really is something to see. Though the really crazy costumes and manic yelping have been toned down a tiny bit since the band's beginning in the early '00s, she's still riveting to watch as she dances, jumps, flails, bounces, kicks and skips around the stage, periodically taking a drink of water and then spewing it into a cloud above her head. After her zebra print cape, she switched over to her famous leather "K.O."-studded jacket so that she could be properly dressed during her performance of "Zero" ("So get your leather, leather, leather on, on, on, on," she sings). Then for the encore, she wore a multi-colored, tinsel-covered cape for "Maps."
Beyond the costumes and stage antics that night, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs debuted some excellent new songs. "Sacrilege," Mosquito's first single, which was released back in February, is by far the best new song I've heard yet this year. Recorded down in New Orleans, the song is unlike anything else they've ever done. It starts out slowly with a few distorted, punctuated words, then grows to add Nick Zinner on guitar and Brian Chase on drums and by the end has added a full gospel choir, taking on a near-religious feel. Karen O really played this song up nicely at the Webster Hall show too, closing her eyes and waving her outstretched arms toward the sky.
Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, who worked with the band quite a bit on their last record, It's Blitz, produced and in other ways influenced Mosquito as well. One of those Sitek-inspired songs, "Slave," is another great song that has a seductive quality and a classic-YYYs, rock 'n' roll rumbling guitar line from Zinner that will get lodged in your brain for days.
James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem also takes his turn as producer on this record with the track "Buried Alive." The song is dark and intriguing, but doesn't really make a lot of sense on this record, particularly the short rap by Dr. Octagon featured about half way through. It's interesting and cool, but doesn't fit in with the rest of the album at all.
"Under the Earth," Karen explains, is a "reggae-inspired tune." While far from being actual reggae music, it is what I imagine a YYYs reggae song would sound like, with a lot of lo-fi vocal distortions and cool drum beats. The album's title track is a fun song too, which Karen explains is "literally about mosquitos." "I'm surprised that there aren't more songs about them out there. I have a pretty passionate hatred of them," she said.
"Subway," the album's second track, is the band's New York City tribute song. As a New Yorker myself, I believe that there is nothing more New York-y than the subway system and that this is the perfect way to pay tribute to the band's hometown. In the song, Karen mentions her metro card, the express train and repeats the line "I'm waiting and I'm waiting/I'm waiting and I'm waiting...," which is all too relatable, over the recorded and looped muffled backing track of an actual subway car's rhythmic clack-clack-clack sound.
The album comes to an end with "Wedding Song," a song that begins with the sound of birds, which the band recorded outside one of their studios in an oasis in the West Texas Desert, and then evolves into a gorgeous ballad.
Though there are a few tracks that never seem to find themselves and become stand-outs, most of the tracks on Mosquito feel fully developed and diverse, yet cohesive as a whole. With each album the band releases, their music feels more controlled and mature. With Fever to Tell, their 2003 debut LP, the band was far more punk with heavy guitars and Karen's voice screaming and yelping, never trying to be pretty or delicate. But then with 2009's It's Blitz, the band began incorporating a few synthy elements into their music and Karen's voice became more restrained and beautiful. The songs on Mosquito continue down this road of maturity and allow the band to change and grow, while still feeling like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
This article was originally published here.