Similar to the fatal scene on the cover — someone in cool-toned colors floating from fire — the Yeah Yeah Yeahs mirror vivid disorder on their latest album Cool It Down, released Sept. 30.
In 2003, the trio etched itself into critical hearts with its debut record Fever to Tell and later smashed onto the dance scene with the iconic “Heads Will Roll.” Contrasting this sudden success, the band then diverted from the mainstream route and returned to the indie roots of its previous projects. On Cool It Down, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ sound roams outside the bounds of radio hits and ventures into the cosmic.
Lead vocalist Karen Orzolek, better known as Karen O, uses nihilism as catharsis. She resists, at first, an emotional connection to the suffering in her life. Whereas on the band’s last album Mosquito Orzolek served as an insistent medium amid distress, on this release she reaches for the stars with scorn. It is through this heartache — illustrated in her riveting poeticism, illuminated in her enigmatic production — that she finds relief.
“Spitting Off The Edge of the World” sees the Yeah Yeah Yeahs collaborate with Perfume Genius, an indie artist who often evokes the same dance sound as the band. Cinematic electronics launch the tune into alarm while Orzolek belts, “In the absence of bombs.” Perfume Genius ignites the same terror as Orzolek on the chorus, staring at the ascending sun and running for somewhere to hide. Together, both musicians illuminate the existence of some defiant threat and the deteriorating state of the world around them.
On the other hand, the resistant anthem “Wolf” aims to abolish this fear. Trading in her distressing vocals for glistening confidence, Orzolek announces her “hunger” for defeat. Her vocals blare with an intense urgency; the dancehall electronics pulsate the beat further. Boastful but reflective, she recites the line “Into the wild with me” more than ten times and reminds listeners of her dominance over the trauma at hand. Regardless of the hell ensuing around her, she and her bandmates are the ones in control.
The band extends its neon, rose-colored confidence on the arousing, dance-infused song “Fleez.” More melodic in nature, the vocal deliveries from Orzolek elevate the tune into cosmic territory. She roars over saturated drums and glittering basslines. To match this intoxicating sound, she warns her enemies: “I won’t do battle with no fiction.” In contrast to the fear of “Spitting Off The Edge of the World,” Orzolek reaches her fullest form of confidence in the face of terror.
But as she starts to construct an assertive aura, it crumbles out of her control. On the stand-out ballad “Blacktop,” the band loses its self-assured facade and submits to the emotional gravities of life. Instead of resisting all optimism as she did on the opening tune, Orzolek chooses to reflect on her woes with sage intelligence. Aided with the sparse but beautiful drums and guitar of her bandmates, she laments: “Time held me green and dying.” Her cadence is wistful, her words an intimate confidante reminding one to place their worries elsewhere
“Blacktop” concludes with cascading harmonics and sensual vocals on the chorus — an intense foreshadow of the final tune. In the same vein of saccharine emotion, “Mars” incites nostalgia with an emotive narrative: Orzalek’s son admiring the ocean. “I asked my son what it looked like to him/ ‘Mars,’ he said/ With a glint in his eyes,” she reiterates amid stilted synths. Orzolek admires her son with warmth, rushing to encase his childhood innocence and effervescence before it washes into the sea before them. Her poeticism — her immortalizing of rather simple memories in a frame of melancholia — is what makes this track so poignant.
Much more focused on crafting thematic environments, Cool It Down hints at an evolution in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ musical and melodic influence. Instead of inciting riot, the trio yearns to discover hidden vulnerabilities amid calming blue skies — even if it means flying through the flaming sunrise first.