As might be expected from the frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O’s songs on Crush Songs are spare, short, and lovely—most tracks are accompanied with just her own guitar. It’s the type of thing to hear live at the archetypal coffeeshop of the ’90s—a simple setup, a powerful vocalist, and a sound that is almost painfully vulnerable and feminine.
According to the material O’s written while promoting the album, Crush Songs is a work almost 8 years old, from when she was 27 and “crushed a lot.” She added that the album is a “curated collection of crush songs from my personal library.”
Which goes toward explaining why the album sounds, as Associate Editor Marah Eakin observed, “like it was recorded on an iPhone.” The album is fuzzy and echoing, like a bad demo tape; it distorts and blurs O’s considerable vocal talents. It’s a deliberate decision that makes the album feel like a found artifact—which suits O’s haunting, dirge-like vocals—like songs from the bottom of a tomb. But the effect is not of a carefully cultivated sound; instead it feels like O is hiding behind static and bad production.
It’s a far cry from the indelible force and range of O’s work with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—she’s done romantic ballads and dance-punk with equal confidence, but Crush comprises 15 songs that are nearly interchangeable. They do not vary in tempo, style, or even, it seems, in key—and as the liner notes indicate, the content of the lyrics are universally about crushing.
It’s still Karen O: “Love’s a fucking bitch,” she observes in “Rapt,” the debut single off the album. O’s version of softness in a personal project still rings out like a shot in the night. It’s just forgettable, and that’s not an adjective that suits Karen O.
Crush Songs is sad and pretty and likely to be playing at an American Apparel somewhere near you, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s hardly the best work Karen O can do.