Home recordings-turned-official releases are a tough thing to approach. The artist is presumably not asking for you to consider it on some level with their more labored over work, but they are going through the trouble of releasing it. For Karen O’s new solo record Crush Songs, we’re given a collection of scratchy acoustic guitar demos recorded by O between 2006-07, around the time she and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were in the aftermath of their broad range rock album Show Your Bones. Perhaps inspired by the success of the Oscar-nominated “The Moon Song,” the stripped down beatific track from the Spike Jonze film Her, O has now put these tracks out for commercial release.
But for those looking for the wounded beauty of that track in this album might be a bit disappointed by Crush Songs’ sketch-like quality. This is not dinner music. The songs’ barren quality is not really the type of thing makes you want to kick back with a bottle of wine. This is more what you listen to arriving home after a party when you’re alone in your bedroom, looking for another voice that might empathize with your half-drunk longings for that girl or boy across the room.
That said, once your expectations have been properly lowered, Crush Songs is an interesting peek into O’s vulnerability, if not an essential listen. “When I was 27, I crushed a lot,” she says in her press release. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever fall in love again. These songs were written and recorded in private around this time.” A chance to see inside the musical notebook of someone like Karen O is definitely a mild to tepid curiosity for anyone who’s ever witnessed her streaming tears in the “Maps” video. Right off the bat, the opening “Ooo” is a candid tune about being entranced by a guy who even the mere sound of his name gives her butterflies. The majority of the record stays in that zone, humble acoustic tracks sung by Karen in her most spent vocal tone about, well, crushes. Some, “So Far” and “NYC Baby” are tranquil and can be absorbing even in their shortness, while others like “Visits” and “Comes the Night” are dismally barren. The album’s biggest highlight is in the brooding “Beast” which has an autumnal minor key that picks along as Karen sings of a man that she’s drawn too despite his brutish qualities.
In many ways, the buzzy treble of these four-track recordings are part of its charm. If this is diary-music, then it might as well be the aural equivalent of black-and-white scribbles on a page, and at its short length, the format doesn’t overstay its welcome. Crush Songs is not likely to be more than a curiosity for most listeners, as its songs are more brief moments of personal anxiety and frustration than fully realized visions, but there’s more than a few nuggets that would be perfect for a lovelorn mixtape. It would still be nice though for Karen O to gift the world a proper solo record as opposed to what we’ve had so far – this scrappy collection, and the piecemeal Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack. She has a powerful voice that works great with her raucous YYY cohorts, but a more ornate record similar to the surprisingly gorgeous acoustic takes found on the It’s Blitz! deluxe edition would be a great addition to her currently scattershot solo canon.