Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O (born Karen Orzolek) has had a prolific career. Aside from making music with her Grammy-nominated band, O has done critically acclaimed work on movie soundtracks, most notably contributing to those for “Where the Wild Things Are,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Her.” Having been a massive fan of O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs since I was 16, I was thrilled when Crush Songs, O’s new solo album, was announced.
While Crush Songs is the first official solo album from O, it is not her only solo album in existence. As the most obsessed Karen O and Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans know, several years ago, a demo CD that O had recorded, entitled KO at Home, was leaked onto the Internet. KO at Home is dark and harsh. In its experimental, lo-fi tracks, O captures an emotion that is both manic and melancholic. While several songs on the album are brief, the majority of them are long and repetitive. In them, O is trapped in a clearly evident, though unspecified, pain. It’s startlingly different from anything O has done before or since.
Crush Songs is a decidedly softer album than KO at Home. Whereas KO at home expresses a deep-seated trauma, Crush Songs is exactly what you’d expect from its title: a collection of songs about crushes. Yet, when listening to Crush Songs, I can’t help but notice KO at Home’s influence.
Besides inheriting KO at Home’s lo-fi sound, Crush Songs also grapples with a sense of entrapment, as demonstrated by its sequencing of songs. “Don’t tell me that they’re all the same,” O hums cheerily in “Ooo,” the first song on the album, “’Cause even the sound of his name/Carries me over their reach/Back to some golden beach/Where only he remains.” Right away, O reminisces about her past crushes. However, “Rapt” offers a stark contrast to this cheeriness: O laments, “Love is soft/Love’s a fucking bitch.” The songs following “Rapt” continue to explore these negative feelings. In the first line of “Visits,” for instance, O sings, “The worst is gonna come out slow.” In “Ooo,” it seems, O has romanticized her past crushes, and—perhaps as a result of this romanticization—has continued to have crushes, in spite of negative experiences with them, effectively trapping her in a cycle.
Like actual crushes, the tracks on the album are incredibly brief. “Beasts,” the album’s longest track, is just under three minutes long, while “NYC Baby,” the shortest, is fifty-seven seconds long. Each song is just long enough for the listener to enjoy and just short enough to leave hir wanting more. Though each track has its own, unique sound—in a sense fulfilling O’s protestations in “Ooo” that “they’re not all the same”—the same angsty desperation is present in all of them. In Crush Songs, O searches for something positive that, while glimpsed at certain moments in certain songs, is never fully present, except in her reminiscence in “Ooo.”
Overall, Crush Songs is a fantastic album. Given O’s track record, that isn’t really much of a surprise. O’s lyrics are simply mesmerizing. You will want to listen to every song on the album again and again, as she entraps you in her cycle of crushes with her. While it may not be the perfect album for a bright, sunny day, Crush Songs is a beautifully constructed, raw exploration of the struggle to find love, and it is certainly not an album to miss out on.