Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Those who receive Elsewhere's weekly newsletter would know of what befell us in January 2023: flooding through the office which took out about 500 record albums, scores of CDs, books, travel journals, mementos and family photos.
What was salvageable ended up in two lock-ups and so the shelves we normally pull a record off at random for consideration are now empty.
The shelves are either at the tip or lying sideways in an abandoned office.
But finding an album at random was still possible because a few dozen were carried out and then through the generosity of some people (see below) a dozen more arrived.
And out of that modest pile this recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs album came to hand.
By coincidence we'd just seen and reviewed Meet Me in the Bathroom, the doco about New York in the late Nineties/early 2000s in which the young and emerging Yeah Yeah Yeahs – especially the singer Karen O – appear.
There she is fragile, uncertain and increasingly damaged by the unwanted and inappropriate male attention, the temptation and expectation of peer pressure and fame, unsure of what she is and can be, and – to be frank – mostly just another yelping voice among many others.
Two decades on the mature and smart Karen O with keyboard player/guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase have completed the steady transition from ragged garageband rockers and aspirational art-punks to the sophisticated synth-pop on Cool It Down, nine years after its predecessor Mosquito and a period in which the members pursued different and rewarding solo careers or projects.
In fact if you dropped in on Burning as a starting point you'd be hearing a sassy, empowered synth-pop and piano ballad with a sustained metaphor of fire, smoke and water.
Much of this album – from the heroic opener Spitting off the Edge of the World with Perfume Genius – is closer to the British synth-driven pop-rock of the Eighties full of grand gestures and massive hooks, stopping just this side of campness and melodrama.
Lovebomb comes with spoken word passages, Wolf is constructed as a love song for widescreen appreciation and dancing around to at home, Fleez is pure jerky dance-pop with big riffage and a funky pulse, Blacktop is a measured ballad over metronomic synth slashes . . .
Cool It Down reminds you not just how far the YYY have come but also how ragged and anxious their early work was, and how much more mature, crafted and better they have become for maturity and time away.
If their garageband rock revivalism captured an audience back then because it sounded fresh but also referencing a great period most in the post-grunge hadn't experienced (CBGBs) then Cool It Down looks back to another previous period and brings mature sensibilities (Different Today) into play, even if sometimes it does sound like we are headed as much towards a soundtrack as a dancefloor.
And the the spoken word closer Mars – which mentions her son – is illustrative of that distance travelled.
If this was the unexpected destination the journey was worth it, even if only to end up where some of us have been before.
But that's always been the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' effect.
You can hear this album on Spotify here. It is also available on vinyl in a gatefold sleeve.
Declaration: This album came out in late February when we were living in the aftermath of our flooding and would have gone completely unnoticed but for an unexpected care package of new vinyl albums from the wonderful people at Auckland's distribution company The Label. This quiet delight was among them.
Thank you again, Lisa, Lucy and Sarah.
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here