Artist: Karen O
Album: Crush Songs
Label: Cult Records
For fans of: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Babyshambles
Standout Tracks: ‘Rapt’, ‘King’, ‘NYC Baby’
Rating: [xrr rating=3.5/5]
Whilst 2006 saw the release of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ acclaimed album Show Your Bones, it also marked an interesting direction for the song-writing of lead singer Karen O.
Penned during a period when, by her own admission, she didn’t think she would ever fall in love again, Crush Songs is her first solo album, and is what she calls “the soundtrack to what was an ever-continuing love crusade.” It’s certainly a departure from the aforementioned Show Your Bones, which is a slick recording, rooted in contemporary indie rock and very accessible.
Crush Songs, on the other hand, is decidedly raw and moody. Themes of heartbreak and wistfulness are extremely prevalent as O draws on her history and romantic uncertainty.
This is both a blessing and something of a curse. ‘Rapt’ has some incredibly hard-hitting lyrics that create a powerful feeling of loss and regret, but the raw, heartfelt vocals do not always make for easy listening. They float into ethereal tones at times, yet also occasionally jar on the odd note here or there, such as in ‘Visits’ and ‘Beast’. In extreme cases like ‘Body’, the outpouring of feelings can get to be a little too much; the effect can be somewhat draining to listen to if you’re used to a more customary style of music.
As far as production goes, the album is incredibly simple. For the most part, it is just O’s vocals and the strains of acoustic strings, with percussion used sparsely. It is hard to pick out a comparable example, but Babyshambles’ ‘Lost Art of Murder’ has a similar feel, with the lilting, echoing guitar and those slightly fuzzy vocals – imperfect, but purposely so. This can be very relaxing and, at best, genuinely beautiful; ‘King’ and ‘NYC Baby’ are two songs that fall into the latter category, and are certainly a couple of the standout tracks. However, whilst the recordings may be uncluttered, the supreme lo-fi nature of it can sometimes verge on messy, with the final ten seconds of ‘Other Side’ providing a somewhat disappointing ending to another lovely tune.
Despite being written around the same time as Show Your Bones, this record does have a more genuine feel to it due to the production. On the other hand, O’s solo performance is definitely something of an acquired taste. It has heart and soul, but it also has a staccato feel due to the short length of most of the songs. It takes effort to sink into, but the semi-frequent moments of brilliance make it effort well spent.