Ten seconds into Mosquito, during the eerie churn of “Sacrilege,” Karen O lets loose with one of her iconic vocal tics — a spine-chilling shriek — as the groove beneath gradually swells from spiky funk to Southern gospel rave-up. It’s exactly the kind of titillating art-rock bombast we’ve come to expect from the New York trio — but in the context of the band’s impressionistic fourth album, it’s also the lone “fuck yeah” moment, the sole easy fix among a series of hazy abstractions.
There are hardly any explosions on Mosquito — very little catharsis, very little that “rocks” in even the broadest sense. The music is sparse and jagged, full of loopy percussion and rigid electronic pulses, with ghostly guitars decaying gently into the ether. Karen O sings from the fringes of her songs instead of commanding them, delivering repetitive mantras in a hushed croak. Mosquito, unlike the band’s first three albums, takes some time to simmer before it eventually clicks. But it does, eventually, click: “Under the Earth” is a clear standout — twitchy electro-pop with bass tones that boom like elephant cries; “Always” is saturated with sensual tension, Karen O’s voice wandering nimbly through ethereal synth mist. But the real breakthrough is “Wedding Song,” which harkens back to the emotional grandeur of early gem “Maps,” referencing the singer’s recent marriage and closing the album with a blissful serenade. “In flames I sleep soundly with angels around me,” she sings, dragging out each syllable over dewy piano chords and a kick-drum heartbeat. “I lay at your feet; you’re the breath that I breathe.” It’s an unexpected — but breathtaking — moment of clarity.