On Friday, the duo of Karen O—the New York rock legend and Oscar nominee most known for her role as the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—and acclaimed drummer and producer Danger Mouse—who has collaborated with and boosted the careers of A$AP Rocky, MF Doom, and Cee Lo Green, among others—joined together to release their own collaboration album, Lux Prima.
As a member of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O reached for a certain brand of music—specifically, the kind of early 2000’s New York rock that aims to slap you in the face—take the seminal rock debut by The Strokes, Is This It, for an example of the work of that scene. One of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ most popular songs, “Heads Will Roll,” from their 2009 album It’s Blitz! is a classic mix of rock and dance, a fan favorite and a go-to party song that ironically tackles the pitfalls and frights of the popular rave and drug culture. As time has progressed, Karen O has continued her improvement, working not only with the group but on movie soundtracks like Her and Where the Wild Things Are.
All the while, Danger Mouse, otherwise known as Brian Burton, has spent the same time working on his own career, blossoming into a renowned and sought after producer. The duo, both in their early 40s, have come together to form an unlikely alliance—one that, according to a recent profile from the New York Times, stemmed from a drunk dial in 2008—that has resulted in a captivatingly spacey and psychedelic rock album.
The duo draws influences from all corners of the musical world, producing songs dipped in rock, funk, disco, soul, and sort of spacey, almost cinematic music that you might hear in a sleek Hollywood crime drama. Often, the production provides a distant, yet weirdly busy and encompassing vibe that leaves room for Karen O to go to work, laying her heart bare on the tracks. In the Times profile, Karen O explained her mindset at the moment.
“I’m on a vision quest of sorts,” the singer said. “What does it mean to be a woman artist in her 40s?”
A perfect example of the experimental sound and mood she’s going for flash through in their song “Woman,” as she proudly wears her womanhood like a badge over exhilarating Danger Mouse drum-centric production.
Danger Mouse has been open about his process, describing how he likes to come into the studio with little to nothing and see what he can create. Karen O bought into this method of his and clearly came in with an open mind and saw what the two of them could create. A perfect example of the product of this method is album opener and titular track “Lux Prima.” The nine-minute song progresses slowly at first, as drums steadily play through the first two minutes or so with little vocal assistance besides sly background shrills until around the three-minute mark, when Karen O comes through clearly, delivering her first full verse on the album, a slow and soothing set.
The song picks up the pace when Karen O sings “I’m nowhere / I’m no one / I’m nobody / There’s nobody but you,” stretching out the you in a heartfelt, almost ghostly drawl. The track comes back down afterwards, settling into a smooth atmospheric tune that captures the vibe of the whole project well. The Danger Mouse production allows Karen O the comfort to wonderfully display her emotions through both the lyrics and the vocals, welcoming the listener with a sense of freedom and wisdom that shines through years of experience, as well as comfort and confidence in her unique abilities.
Often, when artists of the stature of Karen O and Danger Mouse collaborate, the product either exceeds expectations or falls embarrassingly flat, especially when the artists have differed as much as these two have throughout the course of their career. The good news is that the duo manages to successfully meet expectations, providing a smooth, nine-track project that invites the listener into their world, creating a spacey aesthetic that neither goes on for too long nor cuts off too short. The album is a surprisingly wonderful collaboration between two greats that leaves the listener wondering what else can come from this duo and earnestly hoping that they’ll work together again.
Featured Image by BMG Records