Love, and the taut tightrope that precedes it, has proved fertile cultural mining for musicians and artists ever since Orpheus first picked up the lyre. On her first solo LP Karen O, frontwoman to indie messiahs Yeah Yeah Yeahs – a band that’s been providing much-needed shots of adrenaline to a stagnating indie scene for the past decade and more - chooses to centre on that gloomy pre-amore phase.
Her chief thematic concern is ‘the crush’, that murky territory that inhabits the landscape somewhere between lust and love, someplace between obsession and affection, when a cloudburst of endorphins could give rise to something that refines us, defines us, or (in the end) consumes and blinds us.
‘Crush Songs’ is a fiercely lo-fi record. Of the 15 songs collected here only ‘Visits’ boasts anything close to a percussive backdrop. It’s, perhaps, not surprising considering this is the singer who gave us the art-punk yelps of one of the ’00’s defining indie long-players: 2004’s ‘Fever To Tell’. This is principally a marriage of simple, forlorn fretwork and O’s deliciously otherworldly vocals: impossibly, she manages to sound simultaneously seductive and indifferent; emotive yet also strangely detached.
O’s voice may be otherworldly, but the thematic concerns of ‘Crush Songs’ are very much rooted in this world, youth’s timeless preoccupation with not only finding love but also the nature of ourselves. These soundscapes and the lyrics that populate them are characterised by broken promises, the on-off click of the light-switch, and people falling in and out of lust. Feelings are frequently compared to an unshakable addiction (notably on lead single ‘Rapt’, video below, and ‘Day Go By’), relationships constantly flair then fizzle - aspiring romantics might be dismayed by the abundance of unhappy endings.
Ultimately though, there’s a certain symmetry between the nature of the relationships that O sings about and the unadorned numbers featured on ‘Crush Songs’: both are barren, drenched with fuzz, yawning with possibility but, in the end, revealed as underwhelming. They make for an enchanting first-time listen but, rather like the doomed short-term romances that they chronicle, these songs are so threadbare that the first few listens end as one night stands rather than representing an LP you’ll be pining for in weeks to come (although you might look back on it fondly).
Sometimes, as ‘Crush Songs’ adequately conveys, it’s those half-formed, barely realised memories that end up mattering more than anything else.
Words: Benji Taylor
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