Karen O oversimplifies in solo debut

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

Longtime Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O has finally released her eagerly awaited solo debut, “Crush Songs.”

For those wondering about the direction Karen would take on her debut, the results are much more aligned with her Oscar-nominated soundtrack work than with her experimental work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The music found on “Crush Songs” is wispy and dainty, composed of the bare minimum in terms of instrumentation. Most songs usually feature one instrument playing one chord progression and a vocal on top, and then the songs are obscured by lo-fi production, which adds droning hums or slight distortion to the songs. Most of the lyrics, as the album’s title suggests, focus on fleeting feelings of love or attraction.

This stripped down songwriting tactic pays off in varying amounts across the 15 short songs. On some songs, such as opener “Ooo” and the following track and lead single “Rapt,” the songs are well composed and offer enough substance to be solid and fun songs.

Other highlights include “King,” a whimsical tribute to Michael Jackson and a lighthearted play on mortality, “Visits,” which gives out some vibes reminiscent of The Moldy Peaches and the slightly more punk-influenced “Native Korean Rock.”

The song “Body” is the definite high point of the album, with the most fleshed-out instrumentation to be found on the whole record, and the burst of noise at the end offers a refreshing break from the somewhat monotonous structure of the album.

The lowest points of this record are “Beast,” which feels like it is plodding along and meandering during its three-minute run time, and The Doors’ cover “Indian Summer,” which is so short and so unremarkable it seems to be there just to pad the length of the very short run time of 25 minutes and to namedrop a famous band.

Despite these low points, there is nothing terrible on this record. Unfortunately, there are few standout moments as well. Most of the songs are simply too barebones to even feel like songs, with most offering one instrumental idea and some nice vocals on top.

The songs on this record just feel underdeveloped, more like demos. The lo-fi production does not really aid the songs, as it tends to add to the demo feeling of the songs.

Most of this album comes down to which wisp of a song you prefer over the others. I find the majority of the songs pleasant to listen to, but they lack substance. The barebones approach is certainly interesting, but I would like to see it refined and mixed in with more orchestrated songs for a more worthwhile listening experience on Karen O’s next record.