Karen O and Danger Mouse’s long-awaited collaborative album Lux Prima is slated for a March 15 release, and it delivers the level of strong artistic output one can expect from such a talented and professional duo. Karen O, or Karen Orzolek, frontwoman of the touted punk band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and accomplished solo artist, had originally discussed collaborating with Danger Mouse, or Brian Burton, as long ago as 2007. The two initiated serious conversation about such a project in 2015, and now almost four years later are on the cusp of releasing the project. Not coincidentally, the title of the record means “first light” in Latin, and the title track is also the first in sequence.
Rolling in at just over nine minutes, the album’s opening track, eponymously titled, is easily its lengthiest. “Lux Prima” takes some time to develop, with rich and layered synths and Orzolek’s soaring vocals – her voice lends itself remarkably well to the occasion, a prevailing element to the entire record. Following an orchestral overture of sorts, the track really kicks into gear after the three-minute mark with a thick bassline reminiscent of the Burton-produced Gnarls Barkley track “A Little Better”, from the 2008 album The Odd Couple. Deep brass and crystalline keys push the swirling introduction into a quiet shift at the middle of the song, characterised by its self-satisfaction, prominently placed in the movement’s lyrics; after stringing along aphorismic negatives (“no eyes open, no eyes closed, no smoke on your breath, no eyes closed”), Orzolek’s shining chorus “I’m nowhere, I’m no one, I’m nobody, there’s nobody but you” feels almost triumphant. The song quickly shifts back into its first movement and plays out with some added instrumental wrinkles that make every bit of it enjoyable.
“Ministry” follows the title track with a similarly slow-paced saunter, this time with a smoky ambiance and jangly electric picked string riff. Kick drums give the song some punch, and tapered synths intensify shifts in the motion of the song. “Day by day I’ll turn my dreams into a ministry” sings Orzolek with a touch of pathos. “Turn The Light” is briefer but still covers some ground. It opens up with a rounded guitar riff with some backing acoustic chords and drum backbeat that manages to carry some attacking presence, really vivifying the song with some thrust. As is consistent with the entire record, the bass comprises the backbone of the song and serves it well in that capacity.
“Woman” will undoubtedly be a big hit off this record, with aggressive lyrics delivered by Orzolek’s distorted vocals and signature Danger Mouse indie-rock sounds. In the vocal treatment, percussion arrangement, and tonal quality of the bass and guitars one may definitely hear The Black Keys, for whom Burton has extensively produced (Attack & Release (2008), Brothers (2010), El Camino (2011), Turn Blue (2014)). As compelling as the song might be by virtue of its sound alone, the song has admittedly political origins as well, as Orzolek has stated regarding its inception: “We did a first pass where I was blurting unintelligible words and Danger Mouse and I were like ‘Dang! That was intense. What’s that word I keep saying? Woman.’ The atmosphere was volatile with it being just after the election…I like to write songs that anyone can relate to but this one felt especially for the inner child in me…I’m a woman now and I’ll protect that inner girl in me from hell and high water.” The aggressiveness is palpable, and the song is definitely the closest thing the record has to an anthem.
This sonic profile slides right into the next track, “Redeemer”, which is at least as unabashedly Danger Mouse in its guitar tones and percussive qualities. Thematically the song is an erotic twist on circumstance, “I’ve got lust, and you got lost, so I’ll come for you, I’ll come for you” – she is clearly punning and has no need to spell anything out. Utilising her voice’s breathier abilities, Orzolek seductively advises, “if you want to lose your makeup, you got to shake, shake her off your tail” as the song plays out. The song’s bite is sharpened by some mean guitar twang and an airy organ element. “Redeemer” is an utterly infectious song.
Up next is “Drown”, highlighted by its structural ascendance – accomplished by means of a plucked bass which is prominent throughout, along with some steady drumming with fills that intensify and accent the transition into the chorus, in which Orzolek’s vocal pitch elegantly rises with ambient synths and backing vocal harmonisation coasting behind. The song invites the listener to allow the song to wash over, as the chorus “please, let me drown” implores. After “Drown” is “Leopard’s Tongue”, which is upbeat and, like its predecessor, employs the bass quite prominently to drive the song forward. Similar to “Ministry” in its hazy smokiness, this track possesses some melodrama by means of classical strings and a bright piano; there is a brass section in this song as well, giving it a sort of cabaret sensibility.
The eight track is the aptly-titled “Reveries”. “Please don’t tempt me with your ecstasy, so when I go, I go quietly, out of your arms, through space I fell,” sings Orzolek over a very subdued and minimal instrumental arrangement, structured around what sounds like a distorted acoustic guitar. While the song is nothing too special, it is given a lift by lyrics of more poetic sensitivity than most of the other tracks, which are more conventional in that regard, and an imposing synth vibe that hums through the middle of the song. “Nox Lumina” is the ninth and final track on the record, which summarises the album’s sound nicely. It is starry and ambient, bass-centric with a guitar lick of standard indie tone, some compositional nuances among percussions and synths, and all being slow-developing. The lyrics confess “somewhere in my room, sometimes I don’t lock the door, every time I close my eyes, someone else’s paradise, turns me into someone new” – this feels like it addresses the listener even specifically about listening to the album. In a savvy cinematic touch, the song outro reverts to the bookend instrumental section of the first track, “Lux Prima”.
Altogether, Lux Prima is a swanky record that brings ballroom glitz to indie-pop. It seems to have two distinctive sounds, constituting a sort of marriage of what could be considered standard indie-pop, with its thematic content, tones, and composition, but with a refined sparkling delicacy that could almost be considered bourgeois – no surprise when considering Burton’s penchant for noir, being auteur of such projects as Rome (2011). Orzolek offers the vocal proficiency and clear – yet fleshy and visceral – tonal quality essential to accomplishing the aesthetic that Burton so professionally produced. Though the album maintains the same sweeping cinematic gesture, without diversifying much throughout its songs, it does feel like a generally complete progression. In that respect, the result strikes the listener as being comparable to what might be classified as a “concept album”, even if the unifying element is more of a sonic aesthetic than a story or tangible theme.
Lux Prima is released Friday 15th March via BMG