03 Oct Rockmommy Karen O’s Apocalyptic Experiences Fuel a Dystopian Yeah Yeah Yeahs Comeback Record
by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Recently, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O told Vulture, “I have to tell my son how we can’t go outside because of the air quality … That really seeps into your psyche.”
Her words really stuck with me. Our sons — my Logan and her Django — were born in 2014, so they’re the same age, experiencing the same post-pandemic upbringing, in a world where California wildfires, Category 5 hurricanes, and 90-degree Alaskan days no longer raise eyebrows.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of my favorite all-time bands, and songs like the wild, flailing “Black Tongue” – which highlight Karen O’s frenzied, manic musical persona and guitarist Nick Zinner’s moody, distortion-heavy underpinnings — have spent more many, many hours in my ears, between 2003 car rides and 2022 Bluetooth speaker streaming sessions. In a world of ups and down, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always been effortlessly and consistently cool, even between big albums, with catchy tracks like “Heads Will Roll” that fuel Tik Tok moments and infuse Peloton workouts with that extra oomph.
But be warned: This record isn’t Fever to Tell, with its thrilling, euphoric surges, fast guitars and fun squeals. It’s also not Show Your Bones with a big, anthemic, lead-off single like “Gold Lion” that hooks the listener in with a dose of musical serotonin. I should have known this after seeing the album cover, which features an image of a woman falling headfirst into a fire. It’s pretty disturbing and reminds me of 9/11 images in TIME magazine that have left an indelible mark on my psyche.
The first single off Cool it Down, “Spitting Off the Edge of the World” — featuring a vocalist called Perfume Genius — kind of reminds me, musically, of Imagine Dragons. It’s darker, heavier, and much more triggering than dystopian-hit standards like Billie Eilish’s “All the Good Girls Go to Hell,” which is centered on climate change from the point of view of the Devil and God.
To be fair, there are more upbeat musical moments, albeit they keep with the doomsday theme. My favorite of these is “Burn,” which delivers an up-tempo, steady beat, synthesizer, and a bit of keys as Karen O sings, “Into the sea, out of fire, all that burning,” over and over again. And “Wolf” has a fun, sexy dance beat, like something I’d hear at a hair salon or a fashion show. It’s very NYC 2000’s in that way.
And admittedly, I don’t feel totally sad that this record is a bittersweet anthem of these dark times. The band still makes me happy, and I wish I could have seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform with young punk upstarts The Linda Lindas this past weekend. And ultimately, I’m excited to see Karen, for the first time as a rockmommy making music in an effort to make a statement again.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.