Karen O and the Art of Soundtrack Music

8 Jul

Emma Fraser

I have been a fan of Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs since the hype and release of their debut album “Fever to Tell” in 2003, which had O posturing with self reliance on tracks such as “Date With a Night” and “Pin” to the emotional vulnerability of “Maps.” Since this debut the band have gone on to release another two albums (“Show Your Bones” and “It’s Blitz”) but it is Karen O’s work on recent soundtracks for Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are and the forthcoming David Fincher The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, that has propelled my appreciation for her beyond her stage presence and bold fashion choices.

I am a soundtrack junkie, a good soundtrack can elevate a mediocre film and even ruin scenes of a great one. It is one way that I discover new music and the soundtrack section is my favourite in record stores (the ones that still exist). When I heard that O would be doing the entire soundtrack for the adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are this was the equivalent of a fist pump moment. The other production elements were great; Spike Jonze directing, The Sopranos James Gandolfini was playing head ‘Wild Thing’ Carol and Catherine Keener was playing Max’s mother.

Whilst the film didn’t live up to some people’s big expectations, it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed and the soundtrack definitely added to the experience. Performing under the name Karen O and the Kids the soundtrack mixes the vulnerability and sheer brassiness that has become part of all of O’s work. This was especially important for this film that sees the chaotic emotions of this boy who is struggling with his real life situation, by creating this fantasy land that is also rife with instability. “All is Love” and “Rumpus” are two key original tracks from this soundtrack that highlight the exuberance of childhood. In contrast a cover of the Daniel Johnston song “Worried Shoes” enhances this disconnected mood of the film.

Most recently Karen O has collaborated with Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor, performing a cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo teaser trailer. I have seen this trailer several times on the big screen and whilst the quick cuts of scenes from the film are certainly striking, it is O’s vocal style that captures my attention. This film has been quite divisive so far prior to release; some have asked why bother make a remake of an already successful foreign language film, to others questioning the topless nature of teaser poster that has been released. This song on this trailer though makes me more than excited to see the project, especially if Karen O features on any more of this Trent Reznor produced soundtrack.

To see some of Karen O’s soundtrack work check out the videos below:


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