Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Mosquito'
Karen O and Co., the New York alt-rock trio widely known as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, went neon for "It's Blitz!," a staggering best-of-2009 creation that pulsed with dance-floor fever and, as promised, got heads rolling. Four years later and they're back with a different animal … er, insect. "Mosquito," the band's fourth outing, is a sloppy mess of awesomeness that starts where they left off, as "Sacrilege" bursts at the seams with a thundering melody that avalanches into a gospel choir send-off. And then things get weird. "Area 52" might be code for some strange cult initiation, or it might just be a grungy song about an alien abduction. The title track could be about those pesky bloodsuckers, or another nuisance: men. And then, of course, you have rapper Keith Matthew Thornton's alter ego, Dr. Octagon, on "Buried Alive," the kind of tune you imagine running over the closing credits of "The Human Centipede." Whatever the intent of the mesmeric "Mosquito," it accomplishes something, somehow, in its own big, bad and bold way. It's an itch you won't mind. Grade: B+
Gin Wigmore, 'Gravel & Wine'
"I'm gonna getcha," New Zealand songstress Gin Wigmore vamps like a monster lurking in the shadows on "Kill of the Night." And you believe her. How could you not? The first four songs on her sophomore album have more bite than anything on "True Blood." There's a dangerous edge to Wigmore, if not for her infatuation with hell, poison and the devil (all are referenced in the titles alone), then that salty voice, which sounds like a savage beast unearthed from the seventh circle. It's big and menacing during the disc's front half, and doused in more whiskey than Amy Winehouse – whom she resembles vocally – ever drank. "Black Sheep" has the hook of a girl-group anthem and the fury of "Bonnie and Clyde," and during it, Wigmore emerges with zing and sting. On "Devil in Me," you can just see the snake slithering its way through the desert. Eventually, the spunk subsides for "If Only," but darkness looms in the self-consciousness of the heavy-hearted track, with references to blood and "the ghosts in my head." In the same way, Gin Wigmore, even with her liquor-soaked voice, will live in yours. Grade: B+
Brad Paisley, 'Wheelhouse'
Let's all pretend that "Accidental Racist" was truly an accident. The song buzzing most on Brad Paisley's ninth album is, no doubt, a good-intentioned misfire. Lose LL Cool J, and sour lines like "If you don't judge my gold chains/I'll forget the iron chains," and it's not half bad. Paisley's audacity pays off elsewhere: girl-power anthem "Karate" turns the tables on domestic abuse, and "Those Crazy Christians" challenges Bible-thumpers with political incorrectness. Not Brad's best work, but definitely his boldest.
Emeli Sande, iTunes Session
Some of the best bits off Emeli Sande's "Our Version of Events" were the ones stripped of nearly everything but her voice. The British belter needs no flashy backup. She's a bona fide singer. And every bit of that soulful boom is revealed during this eight-song set; both "Next to Me" and "Heaven" scale back the pop punch but remain just as powerful. New cover "I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)" epitomizes greatness. What a showcase.
If Paramore circa mid-'00s made you feel like an angry 12-year-old girl, the trio's mature fourth LP will put you past puberty. "Some of us have to grow up sometimes," sings Hayley Williams. "So, if I have to, I'm gonna leave you behind." Subtle nod to ex-bandmates? Probably. Completely intoxicating ear candy? Absolutely. The new Paramore takes emo on a 17-song odyssey with the restless rocker "Fast in my Car" and funky '80s whomp "Ain't It Fun." Turns out, it is.