In spite of Karen O's somewhat vexatious methods for promoting her latest album, Crush Songs, there is an undeniable charm and honesty about the theme of her first solo work. Whether focusing on all of her sources of heartache is a gimmick or a genuine way to relate to her audience, the fifteen-track record offers a smattering of O's unbridled emotions when it comes to matters of love (and love lost or unrequited). The brevity of each song makes the run time top out at just over twenty-five minutes, which is rather impressive when you consider how quickly, yet in-depth she manages to cover the gamut of romantic relationships.
"Ooo" has the moody vocals of a Loretta Lynn and mirrors the tone of an old country song in terms of Karen O defending her man by asserting, "Don't tell me that they're all the same/'Cause even the sound of his name carries me over their reach back to some golden beach where only he remains." The first single from the album, "Rapt," is one of the longest (which is presumably one of the reasons it made the cut for single material--that, and it sounds most like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song) and illuminates the dichotomous pleasure and pain of love with the lyrics, "Love is soft, love's a fucking bitch. Do I really need another habit like you?"
"Visits" sounds vaguely like the backbeat to Lorde's "Royals," but, this flaw aside, it has a special place on Crush Songs for its particular breed of fastness. It has one of the most jubilant-sounding versions of Karen O, in spite of her noting "I can't hold any soul." Channeling Lana Del Rey on "Beasts," Karen O evokes her darkest, most forlorn vibe on a song that laments, "My heart was never interested in lasting... Did you really love?" Surrendering to the beast that is love, O paints a grim portrait of vulnerability's consequences.
"Comes the Night" continues a sinister aural motif, with light baritone guitar strums that complement Karen O's aching voice. Just when you start to become enthralled by her tale, the song ends at a minute and six seconds. And, of course, as the lead singer of one of the most New York bands, it wouldn't be a Karen O album without a song called "NYC Baby." A sweet, nostalgic sort of track, O croons, "Left my baby in New York City/Oh what a pity he's in New York City/Rather have my baby much much closer to me lately than he's been."
"Other Side" finds Karen O hitting her lo-fi stride, with the distinct homemade sound of the record reaching one of its pinnacles--background noise and all. Though, let's get one thing straight: Julie Ruin by Kathleen Hanna this is not. "Come with me to the other side," O urges, whether as a lure to the object of her affection or a means to wear down someone she's already got in her clutches. Following is "So Far," another twangy sort of track that elicits comparisons to some sort of new-fangled Patsy Cline. The lyrics focus on post-breakup era sentiments as O gives the pep talk, "Hold your head high, leave your bed."
Once again, Karen O has a decidedly Lana Del Rey feel on "Day Go By," with a guitar riff that sounds faintly like "Brooklyn Baby." As the most obvious choice for single material after "Rapt," "Day Go By" has a less pronounced low-budget sound than some of the other songs and features lyrics that err on the more feel-good side (hear: "Gotta call the doctor doctor, gotta tell him that my pain is gone"). "Body," possibly the best offering on Crush Songs, explores the lovely, somewhat impossible notion of not settling for anyone less than what you're looking for with the assurance: "If you love somebody, anybody/There will always be someone else/So make it right for yourself."
"King" is one of the more anomalous songs on the album, referencing none other than Michael Jackson, which I guess counts as a form of love. Over the course of a minute and twenty-three seconds, Karen O explains, "King of pop is dead and gone away, no one will ever take his place/He's in his castle in the sky watching over you and I/And with his single sparkling glove/He blows us kisses to show us love/Is he walking on the moon?/I hope I don't find out too soon." "Indian Summer" possesses a slower than usual tempo and alludes to that strange time when one is more susceptible to falling in love: Indian summer.
"Sunset Sun" finds Karen O comparing sunsets and sunrises to relationships ending and beginning anew, promising, "Night has come, it's done.../Someday you'll know the one." "Native Korean Rock" changes the vibe altogether, with a pronounced rock-oriented feel akin to early Rilo Kiley. As a more empowering song than most of the others, Karen O practically screams, "You'll be fine, fine, fine." Especially if you listen to this album post-breakup.
"Singalong" closes out Crush Songs in a spirited campfire kind of manner, with whistling and other harmonies involved. An uplifting way to conclude an album about the peaks and valleys of love, Karen O shows us that she's capable of accomplishing what so many other solo artists who break away from their bands aren't: Establishing her own unique sound (see: Morrissey, Damon Albarn).