Karen O - Crush Songs (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Karen O

Crush Songs (2014)

Cult Records

Though the tunes of Karen O's debut solo album Crush Songs were written and recorded in 2006 and 2007 (between the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Show Your Bones and It's Blitz!), they are a completely seperate component of Karen O's musical expression. The album strikingly contrasts the frontwoman's usual wild, outlandish performances of the type of in—your—face tracks that the YYYs mastered— screaming guitar riffs and ceaseless drums that matched Karen O's deep moans, high—pitched shrieks, and vibrant energy. Instead, Crush Songs shows purely the tender, vulnerable side to O through, lo—fi, delicate whispers of poetry on the fickleness of love. It's weird.

But, this is the brilliance of Karen O. She can pull off the unexpected and even disappointing due to the honesty and fearlessness that fuels her muscial creativity. Crush Songs is not a "good" album by the usual standards (at under 30 minutes long, it barely constitutes an album). The tracks sound unfinished, more like demos than actual songs, and halfway through the record they really start to sound the same. It's mostly just Karen O softly whining about lost/unrequited/imagined infatuation set to dull acoustic strumming, and the standout tracks go no further than a subtle, sudden addition of soft piano or tambourine; nevertheless her voice is instantly recognizable and carries the melodies fittingly, even as she seems like she's holding back.

There are times when the album does reveal a sense of fun however. "King" is a strange tribute to Michael Jackson, as O sings innocently, "Is he walking on the moon?/I hope I don't find out too soon." The album's second track "Rapt" sounds closest to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' sound, as O states with a bit more emphasis and confidence, "Love's a fucking bitch/Do I really need another habit like you?" And on "Body," O at last unleashes a somewhat long (muffled) scream, as she urges her listener to "make it right for yourself" as they crush on someone of their own. O gracefully yet briefly covers the Doors' "Indian Summer" and closes the album with "Native Korean Rock," her own sweet deliverance of a similar message heard within the punk classic "Come Out Fighting."

Crush Songs is an utterly personal production. It is easy to imagine the potential some of these tracks have if given the electric power of Nick Zinner's guitar and/or the pounding beat of Brian Chase's drums. But they belong to O, not the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—even though at first the album comes off as perplexing because of its lack of noise, intensity, or something other than cutesy rhymes of daydreamy desire.

But that is the whole point of Crush Songs. These aren't love songs— their fleeting nature pinpoints perfectly the dualities of emotions Karen O expresses on these recordings. Uncertainty vs. hopefulness, self—destruction for the sake of relieving pain, feeling closest to someone far away. She captures the everlasting battle of falling in love vs. combating loneliness with a soft sincerity that needs to be understood quietly. Yet although Crush Songs reveals another layer to Karen O's artistic expression, her performance comes off as a bit too passive. The intricate themes of these songs would be much more memorable if O had apporached them with her established, unique brand of wild empathy.