Karen O – Crush Songs

Album, Music, Reviews September 13, 2014

Originally published and still available on Gigslutz (12/09/14).

When the rock goddess that is Karen O revealed some months ago that she was going it alone, it raised more than a few eyebrows of music fans around the globe. What did that mean for Yeah Yeah Yeah’s? Would it be but a glorified solo project that merely milked the band’s previous work, or would she unveil a new sound that would stamp her as a one person creative power force to be reckoned with?

As we sit in the present, much of the above has solidified into something more clear cut. Despite Yeah Yeah Yeah’s returning with their fourth album Mosquito in 2013, O has been moving independently of her band mates for the past ten years, collaborating with musicians for a number of film soundtracks – including covering Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and contributing ‘The Moon Song’ to Spike Jonze’s Her, to name but a fewAs far as this solo-outing – entitled Crush Songs – is concerned, glorification appears amiss, with O sitting on this collection of songs for at least four years, the tracks slated as being written between 2006 and 2010. Her creative and reactionary output for a bunch of crushes within that time period, Crush Songs marks a time where O “wasn’t sure that [she’d] ever fall in love again” and as a result, the nature ofCrush Songs is akin to peeking in your best friend’s diary.

Whilst Yeah Yeah Yeah’s are known for being a lo-fi band, on Crush Songs O presents the bare bones of embryonic demos, offering odes to loves gone by. Counting us in with hushed whispers, the tracks twine between melancholy and – occasionally – fleeting pop undertones. As is the nature of the album, the majority of what occurs is very primitive, with O softly strumming her guitar whilst overlaying her unique and identifiable croons. Album opener ‘Ooo’ sets an apt tone: slow in tempo, reminiscent, and with an underlying sadness or angst, as is the case with the album’s first single, ‘Rapt’. There is some longevity to be found in ‘Visits’ thanks to O mixing up the template with a drum machine loop and additional sounds, and in a similar vein, ‘Day Go By’ feels lighter than its siblings despite its lyrical longing.

That this collection of demos has not been re-recorded acts as a novel sentiment for the crushes that O once held. In retouching these tracks, much of the immediacy of her emotions in writing them and – as a result – how she presented them in that instance would have been lost with the crush that died. These are bedchamber songs (not counting the more ballsy ‘Native Korean Rock’) and much like her desires, many of the tracks on this album are incredibly brief, with the majority not crossing over the two minute mark. This, as well as their incomplete state, makes the album feel very fragmentary and occasionally lost, meandering its way through snippets of sound on its quest to find a purpose. Perhaps that is the point that O intends to make however; her passions for potential suitors were not intended to last, and as such, the demos of Crush Songs are unlikely to stand the test of time. Treat it as a fractured encounter, and you will leave with your heart intact.

Read more of my writing for Gigslutz here.

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