Album Review: Karen O | Crush Songs

by BUST Magazine

Karen O’s solo debut was stolen from her. Though Crush Songs, out today on Cult Records, is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer’s first official solo album, fans have most likely already heard KO at Home, the 14 home-recorded songs that were posted on the Internet in 2006. Originally a private gift for TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, KO at Home was leaked when someone found the CD in Sitek’s apartment after he’d moved out.

In that context, it’s not surprising that the roll-out of Crush Songs has been marked by a certain protectiveness. Outside of intimate listening parties held in fans’ living rooms, there has been almost no promotion for the record. As it turns out, that suits it perfectly; like a crush, these quiet, lo-fi songs are meant to be held close, a secret between you and Karen O.

Clocking in at just under 26 minutes in length, with most songs under two minutes, Crush Songs at times feels more like a collection of ideas for songs than a fully-realized album. Though many were recorded around the same time as KO at Home, these tracks have a markedly lower sound quality. It’s fitting that Karen O is submerged in the video for the sublime “Rapt,” as there’s a sonic similarity to being underwater in these heavily textured songs.


Though a degree of nuance is lost in the fuzz, it’s balanced by a simplicity of composition. Karen O’s voice is the dominating force, occasionally layered over itself in multiple takes. Guitar and ukelele are her primary instruments, with occasional piano and minimal percussion. Her handwritten lyrics are included in the vinyl versions of the record, and they range from romantic to impenetrable to just catchy, like in second single “Day Go By.” Another standout track is “King,” a theremin-laced lullaby that bids farewell to Michael Jackson.

As an artistic statement, Crush Songs is a curious move. Why choose such rough recordings, and such old ones, as your first true solo release? It certainly sets Karen O apart from other frontwomen who have made such a transition. In light of the theft of her other home recordings, perhaps Crush Songs can be read as an affirmation of artistic ownership, celebrating the power in creating music just for one’s self. On the heels of Neil Young’s A Letter Home, this may be a sign of a new lo-fi movement in music. Or it may be, like a crush, just a fleeting and pretty diversion. For now, that’s enough to keep listening.

Crush Songs will be out Sept. 9 on Cult Records and is available to pre-order online!

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.