Karen O has the voice of a woman, but sings (gloriously) like a child. It is a quality evident in her work on the soundtrack to 'Where the Wild Things Are', and the reason she was such a perfect choice for the project. Her voice has a wildness to it, and a childlike honesty that has been absent from music since long before we were born. Listening to her work is most definitely an other-worldly, transporting experience.
This also creates a stark contrast when the work has a distinctly adult moment, such as in 'Rapt', the second track on her new record 'Crush Songs', when the youthful purity is cut with profanity. It creates the same feeling you get when you hear a child swear, but the language that would usually be aggressive becomes beautiful, and a part of the poem.
'Crush Songs' is intimate, whispered, feverish, breathless, shouted, hurried, stammered, desperately lustful and razor sharp; everything a crush is. Listening to the record, I feel certain that this ethereal and macabre voice coming through the speaker is actually coming from a dark hillside somewhere; with the bare branches of trees and a large American moon. There is darkness, and white light in the sound itself, and in the simplicity of the recording.
It's difficult to compare Karen O to any other female artist, because she isn't quite like anybody else. There are no complicated instrumentals or impressive vocal exercises, just a purity with a tribal, spiritual heat. The simplicity of it is unlike anything else, but that isn't to say that it isn't sophisticated. It is music, and good music, with melody, poetic lyrics and catchy choruses, but it feels untouched. It's a woman, in a room, with a guitar, and the words she wrote scribbled in a notebook in the middle of the night. Nothing else.
Some tracks like 'Day Go By' combine modernity with a comforting, folksy antiquity, and the nostalgia of a 60s or 70s sound. There is no production, or so it feels. No tuning or manipulation. No editing, even.
In 'Body', we get a mix of the abandon, and childlike let-loose that was so perfect for 'Where the Wild Things Are'. It is the sound of a child when there are no adults around. In a room covered in their mother's make-up and wearing every item of clothing out of their wardrobe. Completely uninhibited, joyful childhood. The work is by no means immature, or unrefined, it just holds all of that delight in life and is unburdened by self-conciousness in the way that only children can manage.
In 'King', the timelessness is broken for the moment of a track, with a rare connection to the modern world: "The 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, show us love / Is he walking on the moon? / I hope I don't find out too soon". It really does only last one beautiful, heart-breaking moment (that was the whole song, there), but it's a very moving one.
The record ends with 'Singalong', which sounds like a group of wholesome, sleeping-bag-clad friends with guitars around a camp-fire, but not in a saccharine way. It's just beautiful, friendly, American honesty. It's pleasant, comfortable and catchy; there is no pollution to it, but it manages to achieve it without being corny or outdated.
As I listened to the record, I found myself becoming more unburdened. I found myself changing my attitude and posture, becoming a little more free. In the modern society we live in, with all its pressures, pollutions, demands, flashing lights and notifications, I think we are all in desperate need of becoming a little more free.
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