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Karen O
Crush Songs Justine Leonhardt , September 8th, 2014 10:28

Unlike the extremities of love, those that remain too inhospitable to want to remember even long after they're dead, a crush can be another thing entirely. Often, one can hold onto its beginning moments, whether it was a coffee or a kiss, and on Karen O's first full length, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer takes on the ephemeral but eternally sweet nature of puppy love.

Crush Songs consists of a collection of tunes recorded by O between 2006 and 2007, a time when her band was really beginning to rev up. Like she's telling secrets to the microphone, lovelorn and a little bit timid, the songs come in pared down fragments, some more mere slice than fully formed tune. It's a delicate outline of a theme that is carried through to the album's cover, right down to the handwritten lyrics and personal drawings that come with the vinyl release.  

Somewhat similar in tone to O's 2013 track 'The Moon Song' recorded for Spike Jonze's film Her, Crush Songs has a lo-fi, intimate feel that is in keeping with crushing hard, and serves as a tender account of its optimism and quickly wilting disappointment. Yeah Yeah Yeahs may have grown out of the garage rock revival of the early 2000s and energised legions of fans with their high-energy disco art-rock, but longtime fans of the band will be hard pressed to spot a glimpse of the charismatic verve of O. Instead, this album takes place in a much different kind of garage, with the intensely felt, hushed murmurs of the heart caught on tape.  

With nearly every song clocking in around 2 minutes, and a running length of less than half an hour, there's not much time to get too enraptured with the scope of O's small tales. As quickly as the metaphoric butterfly appears to the love addled stomach, the album is over and gone, with the listener still half-expecting the familiar O to appear. Her notorious caterwaul only ever shows up near the end of 'Body', a brief moment that seems like a raw nod to PJ Harvey's 4-Track Demos. The lyric "love's a fucking bitch" from the album's first single 'Rapt' also recalls some of her previous vocal stylings.

According to O, the material on Crush Songs serves as the soundtrack to "an ever-continuing love crusade" and while the sensibility is apparent, these aren't the kind of romantic odes that possess the crossover capability of Yeah Yeah Yeahs tunes like 'Maps', 'Cheated Hearts' and 'Hysteric'. At 2:58, 'Beast' is the album's lengthiest tune and gives off the old Hollywood atmosphere of a lounge-style ballad sung by a melancholy girl. 'Day Go By' sounds like a demo for what would have been a bona fide hit, while 'Ooo' is lilting and peaceful, instantly recalling a picture perfect lost summer love, a feeling forgotten but still too lucid not to be romanticised. Other songs seem to expand on the feel of 'Ooo', from the slow turning melody of 'Indian Summer', a lulling and leisured ballad, to the brief brilliance of 'Sunset Sun' and the campfire style 'Singalong'.

While one keeps waiting for the undeniable hooks of songs like 'Y-Control' and 'Heads Will Roll', the album instead serves up a collection of musical vignettes that work as an amorous, understated effort that will likely be captivating for ardent fans. 'Crush Songs' certainly has the consistency of intention to draw in new listeners, but for those who love the pace and grittiness of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the end result might leave them crushing hard for the band's next record and the indefatigable side of Karen O.