Ten years in since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ debut LP, frontwoman Karen O is a primal institution – the hipster next door lurching from one emo spectacle to another on bigger stages than anyone expected; she’s the Lena Dunham of art punk. Mosquito feels nostalgic for when the YYYs were New York’s most thrilling underdogs, and not just because one song begins, “I lost you on the subway car/Got caught without my metro card,” and builds a groove on what sounds like the grind of a missed L train.
The vibe, shaped partly in New Orleans with longtime crony Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, is raw, scrappily urban and all over the place. “Under the Earth” channels Eighties avant-funk; “Sacrilege” begins like a love-drunk prayer over Nick Zinner’s neon slashing and Brian Chase’s rat-trap drums, then gets bum-rushed by a gospel choir, like the trio wandered into a Harlem church revival and got saved. Not everything works: “Buried Alive” is basically a goth-y version of R.E.M.’s “Radio Song.” But the tragic magic blazes on “Despair,” a funereal procession that recalls Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” but offers communion beyond the existential wail. Like the best blues singers, O manages to make loneliness not just inclusive but balls-out celebratory.