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The result is a triumph. Cool It Down is sprinkled with production quirks that feel exhilaratingly fresh—the glittering funk of “Fleez,” the icy synth stabs of “Wolf,” the clipped, rattling beat of “Blacktop”—while still unmistakably Yeah Yeah Yeahs in its restless ambition and lyrics that balance bravado with tenderness. After such a long hiatus, did the stakes feel higher? “Life just feels so high stakes these days, you know? Everybody’s still quietly reeling from the past few years under the surface,” says O, noting that the closest parallel to the “uncertainty and lack of control” that she felt making Cool It Down was when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released 2003’s Fever to Tell in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York City. Still, despite the epic, widescreen nature of the songs—“Spitting” touches on the climate crisis, while album closer “Mars” serves as a spoken-word lullaby inspired by O’s son watching the night sky—her approach to songwriting, and her ability to write a lyric at once cryptic and strangely profound, remains as instinctive as ever.
“A lot of it is trying to tune into something deeper but also just trying to stay as open as possible,” she says. “You want to be a lightning rod, almost, to download or receive whatever’s coming through. Songwriting still feels like a very mysterious process to me—just seeing what comes from above or what bubbles up from below.” Returning to the stage this year also came with another dilemma for O: How could she bring the record’s rough, resilient spirit to life sartorially? After all, aside from her innate musicianship and ferocious charisma as a performer, O’s renegade approach to fashion has made her a style icon in her own right—a status partly owed to her now decades-long partnership with the costume designer and artist Christian Joy. The pair first met in the late ’90s, after O began frequenting the East Village store at which Joy then worked; after spotting one of Joy’s own designs—as Joy describes it, laughing, a “hacked-up prom dress covered in blood after the movie Carrie and stenciled all over”—O immediately requested one of her own. The rest is, well, history.
Since the band’s earliest gigs on the Lower East Side at the turn of the millennium (the riotous energy of which is memorably captured in Meet Me in the Bathroom, a recent documentary on the New York indie scene of that period), O’s stage presence has maintained an electric, elemental quality that was in full force at the gigs the band played—first in Forest Hills, then at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles—to kick off their Cool It Down dates. Not only was their return to the stage a cathartic moment for longtime fans, but it also brought to life a record that the band recorded in a frenetic burst of energy during the summer of 2021, as they reemerged from lockdown. “I felt so joyful it was almost explosive, you know,” O says of the writing process. “Everything that I’d bottling up during the pandemic, and really everything that had been percolating for nine years before that, all came out at once.”
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