Karen O's Intimate, Unpolished Solo Debut The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman follows her Oscar-nominated contribution to the Her soundtrack with Crush Songs, a collection of stripped-down recordings that take their tone from the album's name.


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Karen O's Intimate, Unpolished Solo Debut

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Singer Karen O is best known as the wild front-woman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band formed in 2000 and helped define that decade's rock music. Karen O's solo career began by accident, with a leaked demo recording in 2006. More recently, she's done work on film soundtracks. Well, this week, Karen O released her official debut solo album. It's called "Crush Songs." And critic Will Hermes found it both difficult and captivating.

WILL HERMES: Karen O earned an Oscar nomination for her soundtrack contribution to "Her" - the love story of a copywriter, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and his computer's operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. The film captured an exquisite sense of modern loneliness, the same kind that defines Karen O's new album.


KAREN O: (Singing) Do I really need another habit like you? I really need - do you need me too? I believe it's going to leave me blue.

HERMES: In some ways, this is a very puzzling record. Just 26 minutes long, but with 15 songs, most around two minutes or less. And the whole thing sounds kind of like it was 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. And then I sat down with the record - not in a coffee shop, but alone in a quiet room. And the songs did their work.


KAREN O: (Singing) Going to call the doctor, doctor. Just tell him that my pain is gone. It's gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.

HERMES: There's a sweet mash note here about Michael Jackson up in heaven, a ghostly one minute cover of The Doors "Indian Summer" and a clear contender, even on first listen, for maybe the greatest empathetic anthem of Karen O's career.


KAREN O: (Singing) No one understands, you can't throw punches kid, when you're sitting on your hands.

HERMES: 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. And 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, OK, Karen O, point well made.


KAREN O: (Singing) Sing along, sing it anyway.

SIEGEL: The album from Karen O is titled "Crush Songs." Our critic Will Hermes is author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire.


KAREN O: (Singing) Sing it anyway. Sing along, your favorite song.

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