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Karen O's Intimate, Unpolished Solo Debut

Karen O's new debut album is called <em>Crush Songs</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Karen O's new debut album is called Crush Songs.

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.

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Will Hermes