Both on record and in concert, Karen O is a firework display. She’s prone to shiny, colorful wardrobe flourishes to work as a foil to her black leather aesthetic, much as her voice can oscillate quickly from tender fragility to violent, explosive outbursts — in her, the diametrically opposed find harmony. She’s equal parts tension and release, the kind of singer that prides herself on unpredictability, where the only sure thing is knowing that by the end of a song or a performance, something is going to blow up. It’s best to just stand back and take it all in.
In her work with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, her vital NYC indie rock outfit that have only offered up a single album this decade despite a return to touring over the last couple years, the sweetness and toughness are so intertwined that it’s difficult to separate her yearning from her ferociousness. Think of “Maps,” a signature song if there ever was one, and how vulnerable she is until the song erupts, her voice turning from a plea to a wail as guitarist Nick Zinner unveils a tidal wave of rushing guitars.
So when Karen O struck out as a solo artist, be it her 2009 original tunes for Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are or her 2014 offering Crush Songs, she shed a lot of what fans knew of her as a performer in favor of something far more intimate. Surely affected by the fact that one of these collections was literally for a family movie, Karen O embraced the lilting quality of her voice and removed any sense of danger from her recording persona. The productions were loose, with Crush Songs coming across more as a demo collection than a finished product, but all were buoyed by the bright flashes of beauty and a confessional honesty. She didn’t need to scream to have the listener believe her. The emotional resonance lights up the sky long after the words have faded.
But on Lux Prima, her first album collaboration with psych-pop musical auteur Danger Mouse, Karen O proves that after 20 years in the indie world, she still has new tricks up her sleeves. Any artist will tell you the goal is to never replicate themselves, but this album manages to splatter the familiar onto new canvases, expanding everything that listeners have known about the two artists into brave new realms. Nothing is left off the table, including the often personal nature of the songwriting, which explores Karen O’s newfound motherhood. It’s more than a new filter or lens to view artists that have spent the last couple of decades cultivating their sound. It’s a cannonball into the deep end of collaboration, and the pair let each other affect and be affected with striking generosity.