Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Karen O – Crush Songs

The state of music today is, for the most part, disposable. Very rarely is a track or album played more than once before it’s…

The state of music today is, for the most part, disposable. Very rarely is a track or album played more than once before it’s on to the next. Release schedules are relentless for those involved – the music industry machine is constantly trying to keep on the bleeding edge for fear of losing it. In June this year, Karen O announced that she’d be releasing a new album via Julian Casablancas’ new indie imprint, Cult:

 

The album is a collection of tracks with a total run time of 23 minutes, recorded around the time of release of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s (YYY’s) second breakthrough album Show Your Bones. (You know, the album that gave us this?) Interestingly enough, the time Crush Songs was made also coincides with Karen O at Home: a mixtape O had made as a gift for her personal/producer friend Dave Sitek (also band member of TV on the Radio), which was subsequently leaked by a fan who found them in some of Siteks’s old suitcases. As such, the album suggests a peak into the diary of a special songwriter at perhaps her most vulnerable time; a time when things were escalating and accellerating (Show Your Bones sold way better then most expected and earned the YYY’s their second Grammy nom). A time when people were only getting a hang of things like BitTorrent and the consequences thereof.

Recorded in private, Karen O has described the release as one that is “handmade, concise, intimate, ebullient, and instantly relatable” and it largely is just that. ‘Rapt’ has Karen O questioning whether she “needs another habit like you?” fashioning the closest thing to a chorus on the album. Her overall anti-ostentation attitude causes one to feel like sitting and singing right next to you.

‘NYC Baby’ sounds like the beginnings of what eventually turned into the recently Oscar nominated ‘Moon Song’, but the stand out track off the album has to be ‘Body King’. The most complete sketch of all twelve, the track shows off O at her most direct. This track, had she shared it with her bandmates at the time, might well have been a powerful single to rival the likes of even ‘Gold Lion’. One can’t help but imagine that, with the help of the feedback-necromancer Nick Zinner, the scream from about a minute-and-a-half in might have been sculpted into a majestic wall of YYY’s noise. 

With heartwarming lo-fi moments O’s distinct coo exhibits moments tender and cherished. With nods to the folksters and anti-folksters of the time like the Mouldy Peaches and anyone else Diablo Cody may have thought to include on the Juno soundtrack, Crush Songs is a special album but is one primarily for the Karen O/YYY’s devout. The brief offering is something that treats the idea of an album as an end in itself – a distinct artistic expression of a very particular chapter rather than being driven by the desire for critical acclaim. Perhaps this is the best way to respond to the endless glut music fans are provided, day by day, courtesy of the big internet super-highway in the sky: finding a niche and sticking to it. 

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