“Every time I close my eyes / Someone else’s paradise / Turns me into someone new,” murmurs Karen O on ‘Nox Lumina’. She probably didn’t write it as a cloaked, meta reference to her collaboration with Danger Mouse, but it could be one. ‘Lux Prima’, the first album that sees the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman join forces with the genre-hopping producer and musician, presents a different side of Karen O
There are no songs on this record that would require the singer to bend over backward onstage, wrap the mic cord around her neck and hawk mouthfuls of booze into the air or the audience. It’s a much more regal, cinematic affair. Her iconic shrieks and yells are replaced by whispers and croons, while Danger Mouse – aka Brian Burton – wraps everything in futuristic, cosmic production. If Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ imagined a voyage to outer space where its protagonists were still plagued by Instagram and virtual reality, then their US counterparts’ team-up lands a few lunar resorts over, ready to contemplate bigger, more human ideas than the latest technological innovations.
There’s sex – perhaps the most human act of all – on ‘’Leopard’s Tongue’. “One touch and you ask for more / Two touch and you’re on the floor,” Karen hushes halfway through. “Just a lick of sweat off your skin / Like an aftershock from the prick of a pin.” It’s easily the record’s most lustful moment, made all the more thirsty by the lack of anything really going on around it. Where most of ‘Lux Prima’ is fleshed out with layers of lush instrumentation, it’s sparse and emaciated – just the soft jingle on percussion and a rolling bassline filling out the verses.
On ‘Woman’, the duo tackle politics via a fiery ‘60s girl-group rhythm, and it’s the closest we get to those YYYs squawks. Written as a cathartic release in the wake of Trump’s election, it shares parallels with Sunflower Bean’s ‘King Of The Dudes’, specifically in the opening line: “If you want it/ Then you take it.” But where the young New York trio were toying with adopting the attitude of self-centred, power-hungry men, here it feels like Karen is rallying her fellow women, especially as she follows it up by asserting: “Forget what you see when you close your eyes / Girl, you’ll make it.” Instead of focusing on the tragedy of a man like Trump getting into office, it takes power from the situation and rises up, defiant and resistant.
‘Ministry’, a dreamy journey through psychedelic drifts, finds Karen “lost in sweet desire” and praying to “heaven up above” to be made pure. As ‘Drown’ meanders through eerily murky melodies, she begs, “Please let me drown”, as if she’s aching for her lungs to be filled, and the brittle acoustic strums of ‘Reveries’ form a kind of haunted lullaby.
‘Lux Prima’ is a hypnotic listen. Its title track (which means “first light”), the album’s opener, clocks in at nine minutes and goes on its own odyssey within an odyssey, morphing from sci-fi score to elegant pop and back again. Closer ‘Nox Lumina’ (“last light”) pulls you in with a glacial string line, underpinned by electronic burbles like the distant chatter of extra-terrestrials, and Karen’s poised delivery of simple, repetitive lyrics. By the time she gets to the final “Turns me into someone new”, you’ve already long been vying to relocate to her and Danger Mouse’s intergalactic utopia.