Can Karen O Survive Without Her Yeah Yeah Yeahs Bandmates? Debut Solo Single ‘Rapt’ Reviewed

“Love’s a fucking bitch/Do I really need another habit like you?” coos Karen O over creaky acoustic guitar in this first glimpse at her upcoming debut solo album. ‘Rapt’, along with the rest of ‘Crush Songs’ was written way back in 2006, a time when life, not just romance, was proving a “fucking bitch” for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman. Following a failed tryst with film maker Spike Jonze (“I wasn’t sure I’d ever fall in love again,” she later explained), the New Yorker was also facing up the prospect of loneliness in other areas of her life: “I really contemplated quitting. Things had gotten pretty bad between us,” the singer told NME of her working relationship with YYYs guitarist Nick Zinner soon after the release of 2006’s ‘Show Your Bones’. “The future felt completely unwritten.”

All the uncertainty and melancholy of that period simmers noticeably under the hushed lo-fi sounds of ‘Rapt’. A heart-crushing vignette about trying to break up with a lover you know is bad for you, fans hoping for the post-punk granduer of YYYs favourites ‘Maps’, ‘Gold Lion’ or 2013’s ‘Sacrilege’ will feel let down. Instead, this is Microphones-esque bedroom folk so intimate it’s claustrophobic and disarmingly charming. Remember ‘The Moon Song’, the stirring, stripped-back track Karen wrote for Spike Jonze’s 2013 Oscar winner Her? This is more of the same: a haunting, simple campfire ballad.

Why wait till now to release ‘Rapt’ and the upcoming ‘Crush Songs’? It’s hard to say. With Karen now married to music video director Barnaby Clay, who shot the clip for the YYYs’ ‘Zero’ as well as this song’s underwater video, maybe this release is a form of closure for the singer. Or maybe the tracks on ‘Crush Songs’, written during that period of uncertainty for YYYs, began life as demos for a big solo career launch when the NYC trio disbanded? Karen might have thought they were too good to sit at home on a computer hard drive after the group’s second wind following last year’s ‘Mosquito’. Or maybe it’s just a favour to the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas, whose new Cult Records label is releasing the album and could do with a blockbuster name on their roster. Who knows and, frankly, who cares? ‘Rapt’ is a warming glimpse at another side to the raucous, screaming figure Karen cuts in YYYs. It’s a side we’ve seen in short bursts via soundtrack work (Her, 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are) but never across a whole album. The future feels unwritten again for Karen O – but this time in a good way.

‘Crush Songs’ is released on September 8.