Yeah Yeah Yeahs: ‘Cool It Down’ Album Review
New York City has long been the geographic home of the quirky, misunderstood, and effortlessly cool kid. It’s an urban playground where people become the instinctive version of themselves that’s often hidden deep within. It’s sexy, dangerous and filled with rebellion – brimming with adventurers who have been drawn to the city for the same reasons. At the turn of the century, this “effortless cool” manifested itself musically as the post-punk revival boom.
In the 2000s, a new group of bands from New York made their way to the mainstream leaning into a stripped-down basic guitar sound. Inspired by the original sounds and aesthetics of 1960s garage rock and new wave, they repopularized distorted guitars and turned them into melodic pop songs. From this subculture came now legendary indie rock bands like Interpol, TV on the Radio, The Strokes and the art-rock trio known as Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs has spent nearly two decades crafting piercing pop rock with beats you can’t help but dance to, built on conventional verse-chorus structures and side grooves facilitated by singer Karen’s emotional whims O. Almost a decade after their last, disappointing record of 2013 MosquitoYeah Yeah Yeahs make a thunderous comeback with cool it downan album filled with power ballad after power ballad of pure dark, otherworldly disco sludge for dark days.
In June, the group honored fans with the first single “Spitting Off the Edge of the World”, cool it downthe opening song from and the outfit’s first new track in nine years. In true YYY fashion, the song captures a catchy release of emotions as Karen O urgently addresses the current perils of climate change. “We’re all living through this climate crisis through a system that’s broken and not really addressing it,” she said in a statement to the single’s post. “I see younger generations looking at the threat, and they’re standing on the edge of a precipice, facing what’s to come with anger and defiance.”
Lyrically, “Spitting…” takes the form of a conversation with his son about the world he inherits (“Mom, what have you done? / I trace your steps in the darkness of a / Am I this who stays ? “). This topical heaviness collides with resonant, abrasive synths that evoke both powerful resistance and deep despair, setting the stage for an eight-track collection full of danceable moments ranging from proactive and hopeful to despondent and anxious.
This dancing despair looms large in “Wolf.” Beginning with ominous beeps and bloops, the track erupts in the same heavy synth we’ve come to associate with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs of yesteryear. A stunning range of subdued vocals and one of the band’s most dynamic rhythms fill the spaces between guitarist Nick Zinner’s piercing hum and intoxicating string trill. Picture yourself dancing in a NYC LES dive bar, covered in glitter and chrome, and wrapped in a blanket of sadness, and you begin to understand.
“Fleez” succeeds the disco wanderings of “Wolf” by evoking the manic anguish that we have been living collectively for a few years. At the start of the pandemic, Karen O reflected on where her time with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had taken her and the unsettling reality that it could all be over. “Fleez” taps into that same brand of uncertainty from the start. The track sounds like a lost Blondie song with offbeat synths, Karen O’s sung vocals and echoing vocals, and Brian Chase’s 80s drum beats. This is the perfect high for apocalyptic times.
Second single “Burning” finds emotional middle ground among the record’s standout tracks. It’s dark but dancing; on the guitar but aerial; catchy but disturbing. “I’ll set her free / From the bonds of her teachers,” Karen O promises. apply more in a changing world and that the hope lies in finally being able to break free from these constraints. After five songs, it feels like the hum of depression and atrophy felt in the album’s opening salvo.
Whereas previous YYYs albums are built on thrill and speed, cool it down draws us in with its almost maniacal instrumentation around every corner, its sober and discouraged pleas in its lyricism, and an intoxicating and frantic energy. It’s an understandable – disturbing, but hopeful – response to everything that’s happened since we last heard of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs – and one hell of a ride as Karen O and her comrades dance to through a dark and impending hellscape.
Samantha Lopez is originally from Oregon and currently lives in Chicago. She has been a concert music journalist for nearly a decade, with work appearing in Result and Dough. In recent years, she has also focused on personal essays and poetry that explore ideas of trauma, mental health and identity in a modern context. She is currently working on a first collection of essays, a children’s book with her partner, and screenplays for film and television. When she’s not writing, she enjoys traveling, listening to music and massaging the belly of her black lab, Leopold Bloom.