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Album review: Karen O and the Kids' 'Where the Wild Things Are'

September 29, 2009 |  6:42 pm

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Earlier this year, on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ terrific “It’s Blitz!,” frontwoman Karen O demonstrated that she's as effective weaving her voice into a wall of synth-heavy alt-rock as she ever was wailing over the band's stripped-down garage punk. Now, with this soundtrack to her ex-boyfriend Spike Jonze's big-screen adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are," Karen O proves she's capable of still more, floating her ethereal vocals over charmingly ramshackle folk-pop arrangements long on the kind of acoustic instruments you might find in a children's music class.

Karen O is actually co-billed here with the Kids, a sprawling group of indie-rock all-stars that includes Deerhunter singer Bradford Cox, Greg Kurstin of the Bird and the Bee, a pair of Raconteurs and her fellow Yeah Yeah Yeahs. An actual kids' choir lends the ensemble's name some credibility on several tracks.

Yet it's Karen O's unique singing -- imagine a post-punk take on a '40s-era jazz chanteuse -- that defines this music, even when it blows up to Arcade Fire-style proportions, as in "All Is Love" and "Rumpus," both of which culminate in tiny-army shout-alongs. In "Hideaway," the album's prettiest cut, she sounds even more vulnerable than she did on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' hit ballad "Maps."

Not surprisingly, given its origin, not everything here works as well on record as it does in the movie, where a meandering tune-fragment like "Cliffs" adds emotional flesh to the minimalist bones of Jonze's story. Even then, though, there's that voice.

-- Mikael Wood

Karen O and the Kids
"Where the Wild Things Are"
(DGC/Interscope)
Three stars (Out of four)
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