It seems odd to call Crush Songs the debut solo record from exuberant front-woman Karen O. She has a prolific body of work outside the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and this album has lived online nearly in its entirety under the Native Korean Rock moniker for at least six years now. Only last month did this collection see its official release on Julian Casablancas’ label Cult Records. That being said, this is not a case of reworking old material, but rather the opening of a time capsule stuffed with crumpled love notes.
Crush Songs is a skeletal album, as frank of a reflection on love as the title implies. As she promises on “Visits,” the words come out slow. Most of the album’s tracks end by the two-minute mark and fittingly, the lyrics are only a few lines long. That the simplistic repetition manages to be evocative is a testament to the craftsmanship at hand. It features a simplicity quite readily matched in production style, or a lack thereof.
After all, these songs are hardly removed from their demo form. It would be easy enough to polish this album and churn out a few radio ballads on strongly melodic tracks like the dark waltz “Beast” and the triumphant “Day Go By.” But to digitize this collection of songs would taint the nostalgic, relic-from-the-past treatment that really lends to the emotional weight of the record. Though the raw nature of these songs contains a certain magic, many tracks are left feeling underdeveloped. “Comes the Night,” “Other Side,” and “So Far” fall prey to this half-bakedness, and make the middle of the album sag.
Lead single “Rapt” succeeds as a tip-off to listeners about what to expect from Crush Songs on the whole. The point-blank bluntness exercised in the pre-chorus: “Love is soft, love’s a fucking bitch” might as well be this album’s thesis.
Every squeak, missed noted, count-in, and drift-off shyly makes their way into the mix. For an album so full of love, as O confesses that her “heart was never interested in lasting,” one has to wonder if that isn’t a bit of a lie.