Fans of the shrieking, beer-spitting frontwoman Karen Orzolek, or simply Karen O, of the alternative-rock group The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, may be surprised at the sweet subtlety of her new solo album, “Crush Songs.” Written and recorded between 2006 and 2007, the height of her band’s success, “Crush Songs” is a semi-autobiographical account of Orzolek’s major loves and losses through minimal instrumentals and her soft but dynamic vocals. While many of the tracks consist of unmemorable angst-ridden rambling, there are moments of brilliance as well, with catchy melodies and wry life impressions.
Instrumentally, the album sounds like the other millions of sleepy-bedroom pop albums available on artist pages like Bandcamp, with lo-fi acoustic guitar and reverb-soaked vocals. While often trite, this style of playing and recording works well with Orzolek’s material, bringing her vocal melodies and lyrics to the forefront, which are the most important features of her songwriting on this album.
Orzolek’s lyrical content is noticeably more up close and personal than anything she has released prior, with specific details about past relationships and intense crushes she has had as opposed to her glam goth style of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. What is most interesting, though, is how the listener is able to learn more about the songwriter’s life through the stories of love. In “Day Go By,” for instance, she sings “Don’t call the doctor, God save the doctor, something’s wrong/ Gonna call the doctor, gonna tell him that my pain is gone.” Suddenly, the icon of aggressive art rock is singing about her times of loneliness and melancholy, juxtaposed by the sarcastic sense of humor.
Orzolek’s lyrics may often be repetitive or cliche, calling herself an addict to her lovers in a handful of the songs and likening herself to an indie-pop Taylor Swift. Yet she usually saves herself mainly through her singing, which is easily the best part about “Crush Songs.” Orzolek’s voice is more smooth and melodic than ever on these tracks, aided by a lower, more comfortable vocal range than she is used to singing in. Orzolek sings in a soft, seductive tone but with an air of frustration and yearning. Stripped down and accompanied by acoustic strums in songs like “Rapt,” her voice is at its most powerful.
There are some imperfections on Orzolek’s new album. Redundant or cliche themes, uninteresting melodies and chord progressions plague most of “Crush Songs.” Still, the album has an odd appeal in regard to its frank, spontaneous nature, as if Orzolek was just sitting down venting after a day of love or heartbreak. In the vast assortment of music projects led by Orzolek, in which she portrays a weird rock ’n’ roll persona, it is refreshing to see her release a record so intimate.