A friend of mine who had never before been exposed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs once heard Fever to Tell blaring through my headphones, only to describe it as heavy metal. The statement, a horrendous misattribution, still goes to show just how far the New York trio has come from their roots. The band’s fourth album, Mosquito, a self-described take on the genre of soul, is markedly toned down but somehow remains distinctly their own proving them chameleons that are in it for the long haul.
The unmistakable stamps of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are present throughout the album. Karen O’s voice still sounds like a combination of everything broken and horrible and beautiful, and each track is undeniably creepy in a cool kind of way. But Mosquito is notably lacking in several elements of the band’s prior incarnations. Wailing guitars and Karen O’s window-shattering but never haphazard screeches are replaced by cleaned up riffs and an exploration of her more melodic style of singing. There’s even a gospel choir in lead single “Sacrilege.” These changes aren’t necessarily better or worse, they’re just different. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are nothing if not masters of uncanny experimentation, and so they work in a way that is immediately distinct. All at once, Mosquito sounds nothing like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs record as well its quintessential manifestation.
Judging by this album, the band is definitely going in a mellower direction. Songs like “Mosquito” and “Area 52” that are more distorted and dire are the exception rather than the norm, as might have been the case in their early days. But people grow and people change and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs obviously know how to do it without compromising their integrity or artistic intent. The album leaves the band just as unclassifiable and indescribable as ever — and here’s hoping they stay that way.