Karen O wrote the book on fronting a band in the 21st Century. From Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ inception in 2000, whether it’s ripped multicoloured tights and spitting on stage, being the picture of elegance at the Oscars, or anywhere inbetween, if there’s a list of iconic frontpeople that’s been written in the past decade that hasn’t included O’s name, it’s, well, wrong. Whether it’s that show-stopping fashion sense or her immediately identifiable vocals, screaming along with ‘Art Star’, whispering on ‘Rapt’ or inducing tears with ‘Maps’, 2014 saw her release a debut solo album proper, the delightfully intimate ‘Crush Songs’. On top of that there was performing at the Oscars with Ezra Koenig back at the start of the year, and being nominated for a Grammy just recently. So here’s a little taste of her many musical lives.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Date With The Night
The best punk songs are short, sharp, fast and intense. The best pop songs are immediate, universal and impossible to forget. ‘Date With The Night’ succeeds at both – explosive both in nature and the way in which it launched Yeah Yeah Yeahs into public consciousness back in 2003, reaching as it did #16 in the UK singles chart. More than that, it showcased Karen’s untouchable status as icon, frontperson, vocalist, songwriter and the song’s own status as the ultimate ‘indie disco’ track.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Art Star
Of course, O (and Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, but in this particular case mostly O) can do brutal. ‘Art Star’ is almost brilliantly unlistenable at its rawest, O all-but swallowing the mic in order to broadcast that guttural roar.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Gold Lion
And here’s the opposite side of Yeah Yeah Yeahs – ‘Gold Lion’ is sparkly both figuratively and literally. There’s the production sheen provided by Dave Sitek, acoustic guitars, slower pace and almost country-esque vocal line included, and then that the all-gold outfit Karen’s wearing in the video. Which, given the chance, 100% of anyone who’d seen it would ape, given half the chance.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ft. Karen O - Immigrant Song
Pairing up with Trent Reznor couldn’t be anything less than brilliant, but Karen’s naturally glitchy vocals pair immaculately with this industrial reworking of the Led Zeppelin classic, part of Reznor and Atticus Ross’ soundtrack for film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
Recorded for charity War Child rather than the big screen, this cover’s a little closer to home both stylistically and geographically, but no less brilliant.
N.A.S.A. – Strange Enough ft. Karen O, Ol’ Dirty Bastard & Fatlip)
Featuring alongside Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Fatlip on this track from N.A.S.A.’s 2009 ‘The Spirit of Apollo’, it’s an interesting use of Karen’s vocals, more back-up than front-stage – and still it works just the same.
Karen O – The Moon Song
There are probably better recordings of this available, but let’s face it, Karen’s fancy gown and Ezra Koenig in a tux are worth it. Written with film-maker Spike Jonze for his 2013 movie ‘Her’, it’s since been nominated for a Grammy alongside that Oscar call, and there’s also a version performed by the film’s stars Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix. Without him attempting to resurrect his rap career.
Karen O - Body
One of the more fully-formed numbers from ‘Crush Songs’ - even featuring percussion courtesy of clip-clop sounds - ‘Body’ is gorgeous as the intimate recording exists here, and has the ability to become massive live, or if ever expanded to a full-band. Or orchestra - just imagine.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps
Because obviously. Emotive at a point the world wasn’t quite sure if the trio could do it, reportedly written for O’s then boyfriend Angus Andrew of Liars, a track that’s able to be epic in sweaty basements deserves to be epic in concert halls and just about everywhere else. Including your own headphones on the bus. We’re not crying, honest.
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