Yeah Yeah Yeahs Launch a Whole New Chapter With the Towering ‘Cool It Down’: Album Review

Two decades ago, as the turn-of-the-century NYC indie-rock scene burst out of its East Village and Williamsburg incubators, few probably expected that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs would end up having the most wide-ranging career of the bunch. After all, a trio consisting of a wiz-kid guitarist, powerhouse drummer and a fireball lead singer might have made for explosive shows and a scrappy, deceptively diverse debut EP, but with no shade intended to the Strokes, Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, TV on the Radio and all the others, the multiple musical directions the band would go did not seem to be in the cards.

The Yeahs had the first hit single of the pack (2003’s “Maps”) and varied their approach with each successive album, peaking with 2009’s unexpectedly electronic-heavy “It’s Blitz.” That album represented the end of that particular thread: The group released one more, rockier album “Mosquito” in 2013 (which, significantly, fulfilled their major-label contract) and then basically went on hiatus. In the years since, singer Karen O released a stellar collaboration with Danger Mouse, “Lux Prima” and co-composed the score for the animated film “Where Is Anne Frank?,” guitarist Nick Zinner also scored films and worked with Phoebe Bridgers and Songhoy Blues, and drummer Brian Chase started his own label. Such hiatuses are often permanent, but the group reunited for a tour in 2017, and five years and a pandemic later, there’s finally a reunion album — and it continues the group’s evolution with a powerful, more seasoned take on their earlier sounds.

The album blasts off with one of the best songs they’ve ever released: the towering and majestic lead single “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” which finds guest collaborator Perfume Genius (a.k.a Mike Hadreas) bringing some David Bowie-isms to Karen’s soaring vocal, Zinner’s wall of guitars and Chase’s whipcrack drums. From there, the album wanders all over the map, most often landing on a distillation of “It’s Blitz” and the symphonic vibe of “Lux Prima”: “Wolf” features ‘80s drums, quotes Duran Duran and brandishes a big symphonic hook; “Fleesz” interpolates ESG and has a fat-fuzzed out guitar riff and funk bass; the closing “Mars” has a softly pulsing backdrop as Karen reads a spoken-word piece that concludes with the line, “I asked my son what I look like to him — ‘Mars’ he said with a glint in his eye.” Co-producers Justin Raisen, Andrew Wyatt and TV on the Radio vet Dave Sitek (who’s worked with the band for almost their entire career) have forged a consistent but tastefully varied soundscape, and with eight songs over and just over a half-hour running time, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

But perhaps most of all, “Cool It Down” finds a band whose recorded career started with the words “You ain’t a baby no more, baby” launching a whole new chapter, building on the wildness of their youth without trying to recreate it.

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