Icon. Genius. Polymath. These are all superlatives that (perhaps) are bandied around too much these days, but when you look at two certain figureheads that have helped create some of the best music over the past decade and a half, these accolades fit like a glove. Who am I talking about? Yeah Yeah Yeah’s formidable mouthpiece Karen O and the super producer, Danger Mouse. It’s an unlikely pairing on paper but in the terms of a sonic union, it’s a match made in heaven. The two creative firebrands first crossed paths in 2008 with the view of collaborating but schedules didn’t allow for the pair to work together. Fast forward to the end of 2016 and the duo finally managed to synchronise their diaries. The view of this meet up was very much, let’s see what happens; the result of the recording session? The sprawling space jazz opus known as ‘Lux Prima’; a cosmic journey through swooning, cinematic strings and angelic, celestial hues, all the way through to swinging 60s pop sophistication. Right at the core of this musical melange courtesy of Danger Mouse, is Karen O with a cooing, serene lounge singer delivery. The seeds of ‘Lux Prima’ have since blossomed to become a full-length LP of the same name.
After you have journeyed through the record’s eponymous opening track, the listener is greeted with the same lush arrangements; strings soar, bass and drums combine to create a steady beat and O is front and centre with a delicate vocal delivery not dissimilar to Yeah Yeah Yeah’s sentimental masterpiece ‘Maps’. It’s no surprise the architects at the heart of ‘Lux Prima’ are due to transform the album into an immersive art experience called ‘An Encounter with Lux Prima’ to accompany the album/launch, such is the project’s widescreen, ambitiousness.
Amongst the orchestral flourishes, ‘Lux Prima’ exposes a raw and primal side; ‘Woman’ is an animalistic stomp through rock ‘n’ roll’s sassier climes. Karen O morphs from lounge singer to her earlier punk days with a falsetto screech while drums clatter and a bassline grinds out a pelvic throb. Its here O puffs out her chest and declares “I’m a woman/what you see” as if to call out toxic masculinity. On the other side of the raw spectrum, ‘Reveries’ is ‘Lux Prima’ at its most skeletal; it’s the sound of O and a scratchy guitar line. With an almost demo-like quality, this is where the album dips down into its starkest moment. Although, there’s a tenderness to be found amongst the most minimal of arrangements as O slowly drawls “when I’m at the door/I go quietly/in your arms I go quietly”.
‘Lux Prima’s MO is lush orchestration and bruised delicacy, it can’t be stressed enough how sumptuous this album sounds. The way the strings sweep in, merged with Karen O’s tender vocals could melt the most glacial of hearts. ‘Ministry’s calm swoon as the singer announcing she is “lost in a sea of sweet desire”, while ‘Redeemer’ deviates slightly from the string laden approach for something resembling surf-rock twinned with taut drum licks. It’s here where the album sashays into a sensual bent as O purrs “I got lust/you got lost/so I’m coming for you”. ‘Leopard Tongue’s jazzy bounce is another saucy rump shaker, which has a breathless O proclaiming “one touch and you ask for more/two touch and you’re on the floor/just a lick of sweat from your skin”. To cap off the album’s conceptual slant, ‘Nox Lumina’ merges peculiar synth motifs with strings, digital squelches and crunchy beats. There’s a lovely touch of continuity in the song’s final throes as it’s mimics ‘Lux Prima’s swooning string arrangements.
It may have been years in the making (and waiting) but ‘Lux Prima’s coalescing of two of music’s creative sparks is most definitely worth the wait.
Words and Thought of Adam Williams