Their most mature and powerful album to date
Matthew Mclister
13:35 29th September 2022

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The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been quiet for a long, long while. Almost a decade has passed since the release of their last album (2013’s Mosquito). Despite this, time has been kind to them. The New York trio’s legacy as one of the most important bands of the 21st century gets stronger with each passing year. With the indie sleaze era re-romanticised and discovered again by today’s youth, it’s impossible to deny the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s impact on the then burgeoning ‘00s New York rock ‘n’ roll scene. 

Debut album Fever To Tell thrust the fresh and chaotic sounds of the garage punk trio to our attention back in 2003. The star of the show, of course, was Karen O, a theatrical singer with a punk-catwalk persona and as quirky a frontwoman as you would get at the time. The Big Apple had never sounded so impassioned. 

Where The Strokes sounded detached and cool, Interpol brooding and ominous, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wore their hearts on their sleeves for an experience entirely different. In turn, they created thrashing, DIY tunes you’d have fun dancing to in sweaty indie clubs. The following years saw them move towards a sound less abrasive and more mainstream, but still possessing the quirks that made them so unique in the first place. 

What has felt like a lifetime in being created, Cool It Down is the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most mature and powerful album to date. Carried by brooding synths, there’s a dark sense of existentialism running throughout: an album and sound to reflect today’s pessimistic landscape. “Our fever to tell has returned” proclaims Karen O in an album press release, “and writing these songs came with its fair share of chills, tears, and euphoria when the pain lifts and truth is revealed”. As she thanks her fans for their wait, the best gratitude for their patience is, in fact, the brilliant eight tracks they’ve offered up.

As many of us had given up hope of hearing new music, ‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’ was a welcomed surprise when it dropped back in June. You could almost hear the collective fanbase jaw drop as the power of the synth ballad was revealed. Yeah Yeah Yeahs may have built their name on edgy post-punk, but they’ve always had emotional anthems up their locker too - as revealed by 2003’s tender tear-jerker ‘Maps’. Album curtain raiser ‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’ goes one further. The wall of synths feel desolate and appropriately overwhelming. Karen O’s spine-tingling vocals creep through to support a sense of apocalyptic dread: a comment on the climate catastrophe.

On ‘Lovebomb’, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs continue this similar sense of apprehension, supported by synths both dreamy and spacey. ‘Wolf’ then mixes the record up further: a majestic synth-pop banger which has Karen O revealing her animalistic urges (“I’m hungry like a wolf / I bleed like a wolf / I’m lost and I’m lonely / a hunger for you only”). 

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs bring in the ‘60s soul on ‘Burning’, a hopeful song inspired by a fire in Karen O’s flat over two decades ago. Back when she was a 19-year-old student, the singer left a candle burning in her flat before heading out for a drink. In her absence, a blaze tore through her room to ruin most of her possessions, except for a few meaningful items. Whether it was luck or destiny, the burning helped her realise what was truly important to her. “If the world is on fire I hope the most beloved stay protected” admits Karen O, extending the metaphor, “and that we do all we can to protect what we cherish most in this life”. Piano-led and using strings for extra tension in the chorus, the band have never sounded smoother.

"Cool It Down is the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most mature and powerful album to date..."

Elsewhere on the record, there’s plenty more to get excited about. From the intense heart-thumping beats on ‘Bleaktop’ to the anxiety-driven funk on ‘Different Today’, dynamism shines through Cool It Down. There’s so many wonderful twists and turns. The tension throughout is palpable, though ‘Mars’ acts as a calm after the storm to brings the album to a more innocent close.

During their first decade as a band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs built their name as purveyors of a unique brand of animated garage rock and maintained a sense of jovial peculiarity. Neither of these remain which may disappoint early fans. They’ve instead produced an album far more majestic and intense than we were expecting on their return. The scope has been widened beyond guitars towards a darker electronic direction and the quirks from before have been ironed out. The change up works. Their fifth studio album is as attention grabbing as anything else they’ve produced.

They say performers should always leave their audience wanting more and to their credit this is what the Yeah Yeah Yeahs do well here. Cool It Down may be over in a flash but there’s still enough time for it to leave its mark. These eight tracks are so easy to get lost in and the temptation to fire it up again from the beginning is all too strong once the closing electronics of ‘Mars’ fade out. The New York trio have added to their legacy with their darkest and most intense album to date.

Cool It Down arrives 30 September

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