Once known for its dirty, intimate live show, the band is now known for its festival headlining chops, with frontwoman Karen O leaving getups normally left to Bjork behind and adopting the power inherent in a pantsuit. The latest album "Mosquito" mirrors the evolution both in its experimentation -- namely "Buried Alive" and "Subway" -- and perfection of the band's own formula. "Wedding Song" and "Always," for example, are as saccharine as "Maps," while "Slave" emphasizes the band's garage-rock propulsion.
The album leads off with the exquisite, tantalizing "Sacrilege." The four-minute, choir-assisted crescendo crossed with an unattainable theme plays like auditory foreplay. Luckily for the listener -- and apropos of the band aiming to bring, as Karen O puts it, "charisma...sexuality and the gnarl...back into the fray" -- "Subway" comes next. The meandering track samples a New York metro crossing en route to accomplishing Karen O's mission. With her breathy whispers of longing, Nick Zinner's signature noodling accompanies the scantily clad encounter.
The title track and "Under the Earth" both also hearken back to the trio's debut album. The former features the shrill screech of Karen, which fans have clamored for since "Tick," and a breadth of percussion expertise from Brian Chase, who lends a classic South Africa feel. "Under the Earth" quickly U-turns into the theme of a horse trot through the desert, while maintaining quite the accessible groove. Its lyrics -- "Down, down under the Earth goes another lover" -- share the same infectious indifference as "Man."
The highlights of the album, "Slave" and "Buried Alive," bookend two nearly unlistenable tracks. "These Paths" slugs along vaguely about fate with a sample repeated ad nausea. "Area 52" features lyrics too lazy to be galvanizing against a monotonous scale that carries the entirety of the track. The bookends feature a delectable riff from Nick and earworm delivery from Karen -- essentials for a favorite cut -- while still haunting every bit of sonic space. As disastrous as a Dr. Octagon cameo could have been, the cult hero better known as Kool "Black Elvis" Keith ends up giving a decent verse to the otherwise undeniable "Buried Alive." "Despair," a new staple for road trips, provides an ode to that feeling that never seems to leave our side: for Karen, despair's constant dependability has only given her personal faith. The album's closer, "Wedding Song," will likely only receive a handful of listens -- the personal track was reportedly Karen's wedding song to Mr. O, music-video director Barnaby Clay.
All-in-all, the New York rock group continues to blossom. Growing from the "must-see," raw live band into the textured yet still audacious trio apparent on "Mosquito," Yeah Yeah Yeahs still manage to amaze. Long-time fans will always wonder just where the band will head with each album, but the desire to find out remains constant.