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Karen O, best known as the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, earned an Oscar nomination for her soundtrack contribution to Her, a love story about a copywriter and his computer's operating system. The film captured an exquisite sense of modern loneliness — the same kind that defines Karen O's new album, Crush Songs. It's her "official" full-length debut under her own name, though her solo career began inadvertently in 2006 when a demo recording titled KO at Home leaked onto the Internet.
In some ways, Crush Songs — out on Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas' Cult Records — is a puzzling record: just 26 minutes long, with 15 songs, most around two minutes or less. The whole thing sounds as if it were recorded onto a voicemail message through an early-20th-century flip phone. Now, I'm a fan of Karen O's, but I found this incredibly irritating — at first. Then I sat down with the record, not in a coffee shop but alone in a quiet room, and the songs did their work.
There's "King Karen," a sweet mash note about Michael Jackson up in heaven, and a ghostly one-minute cover of The Doors' "Indian Summer." "Native Korean Rock" is a clear contender, even on first listen, for maybe the greatest empathetic anthem of Karen O's career.
Karen O made these recordings by herself, I'm told, apparently with minimal equipment. But part of me wants to hear these songs expanded, arranged, produced. I keep going back to them, obsessively, hoping they'll grow or resolve differently. Then I remember the album's name: Crush Songs, about relationships that are — by definition — unrealized and unresolved, that get underneath your skin and stick there. And then I think: Okay, Karen O. Point well made.