There has come a time when music lovers have played air guitar or sung their favorite songs into a brush (or an iPhone for you modern folks). There were some made up songs mixed in that only you knew the words that reflected how you felt about a crush. Intricately comprised of words put together of things you wish you could say to them. Karen O, the vivacious frontwoman of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has recorded the ultimate “do it yourself” record in Crush Songs.
Recorded seven years ago in her bedroom, Crush Songs has an organic feel often apt to entries in a journal. There are moments of optimism mixed with moments of glee and uncertainty, often felt when you have feelings for someone new. Karen O invokes all those emotions with a mic and a guitar. I have to say, in many of these songs that find Karen counting herself done, it feels pleasant. There’s a culture where everything is extremely layered and overproduced in music, and you have to constantly peel the layers back in multiple listens in order to get the gist of raw emotion that a musician tries to invoke. With Crush Songs Karen O is totally vulnerable, especially recording in a place where the most intimate things happen.
The album is short and abrupt – 25 minutes, with the longest song clocking in at a little under three minutes. There is a certain charm about the album with it being bare bones, albeit being frustrating at times because of the lo-fi quality. As a listener, you feel each expression, but you also want to hear the lyrics to give it a face of identity. This isn’t to say that Karen did not want it that way. It can serve into an expression of love itself. You become this package of nerves that is not always pretty.
Second track “Rapt” is the antithesis of the dichotomy of emotions that love can put you through. “Love is soft/Love’s a fucking bitch/do you need me too, I believe/It’s going to leave me blue.” Love, when not reciprocated, holds your emotions in a box or hostage. “Ooo” serves as a conversation between friends where one is cautioning Karen to not like the “bad boy”, but she does anyway. “Don’t tell me that they are the same/Cause even the sound of his name/Carries me over their reach.” She’s a glutton for punishment and she does not care. That’s how love is.
Album closer “King”, is what I like to call “lighter rock” – as in, if Karen O performs this in a live setting, it would be fitting for the venue to be illuminated by many sources of light. It’s the overall message of the album, the moral of our story. If you love someone, go do whatever is possible to let them know. As the album feeds off of a certain melancholy, listening to the whole composition only makes you hope that Karen did that for herself.
Crush Songs is full of what they call “feels”, even as you fight through the coarseness of the style of recordings. It’s an album that would serve well on a cassette tape blasting from a boombox to an open lover’s window. Karen O wants you to say anything (see what I did there?) to fight for that crush.