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ALBUM REVIEW: Karmin – Pulses

They want it all.

They want it all.

It’s been two years since the Boston-based duo Karmin released an EP on Epic Records titled Hello. Preceded by a minor airplay single in “Crash Your Party”, issued as a stand-alone release in 2011, the seven song effort would go onto moderate sales and decent promotion for two additional singles: “Brokenhearted” and the title track. Though their charting presence wasn’t stellar, it gave them enough recognition (on top of their already solid following from YouTube) and they once again stepped foot into the studio later that year to finish what is now their first full-length album out on the 25th, titled Pulses.

If you’re familiar with this ongoing story, you know that this effort has been plagued by many delays, originally intended to be released in Q4 of 2012. That would’ve made sense given the chart run for “Hello”, which peaked at the time. There were at least three dates set during 2013 for it to come out, but due to the underperformance of lead single “Acapella” and staff cuts at Epic during the summer, this was again put on the back burner. Feuds ensued and things got ugly, but both the duo and label have seemingly agreed to stick it out with this current date and track listing. Alas, followup “I Want It All” is faring even worse, but luckily, I like it and some of the other tracks on here, which is a special gift for the two’s core fans.

Let’s start with what works really well on here. Besides the aforementioned “All”, which grooves to a Nu Shooz style beat, by far the best cut on Pulses is “Hate To Love You”, produced by The Elev3n. This should’ve been the “Brokenhearted” of the era. It’s straight-up fun pop at its best, switching between Nick Noonan on the verses and Amy Heidemann on the raps. You may remember that it was used in a television ad for ShoeDazzle. Why couldn’t it have been promoted then? That is anyone’s guess. It’s nothing new sonically, but it’s surely meant to be a radio hit.

Two of the other standouts on here feature the duo riding a wave of reggae rhythms just in time for the summer. Satisfying tunes include the island pop vibe of “Gasoline”, which gives the album some much-needed life after a series of so-so tracks. Further down the lineup is “Try Me On”, co-written and produced by Canadian duo The Messengers. (One of its members, Nasri Atweh, is also the lead singer of the band MAGIC!, who have an international hit in “Rude”.) It packs the flavor and showcases a better lyric than the former song.

Of course, you may be interested in the more urban side of Karmin. For that, I would refer you to the Jon Jon produced banger “Pulses”, the title track, which could be compared to the “I Told You So” of this album. Jon Jon also had a hand in that album cut from Hello. The production is hot and the energy is up, but you’re probably going to cringe at lines like, “I wanna raise pulses, la chica with the mostest/Not in the mood for the Average Josephs.” Really? Yeah, I think I’ll pass too.

I can’t fault the duo for switching up the genres and tempos pretty regularly on here, but unfortunately, much of it comes off as slightly passable b-side material at best. The pop/rock turned electro “Night Like This” sadly falls flat; even though the night sounds interesting, they sound pretty bored singing about it. Ballad “Neon Love” is overdone thematically, much the same as “Tidal Wave”, in which they just add water (metaphorically) but nothing seems to grow. 3OH!3 also enters the mix, co-writing “Puppet” – that, at least, stirs things up a little bit, but it’s not one of my favorites.

I hate to say it, I don’t want to say it… alright, I’m going to say it. This really could’ve been issued as an EP and not as a full album. I know Karmin has been pretty vocal about wanting to deliver a first album, but had Epic released this as a part of a two EP series in early 2013 with a sort of compilation album last spring, I think that ultimately would’ve created the best results for both the label and the duo. Instead, this will probably go away without much in the way of sales and no real huge single from it. It’s too bad because the material and the enthusiasm is there, but there’s obviously a real big problem in the handling of material properly at Epic. That isn’t to say the label is 100% at fault because there are some subpar songs here, but unless you’re A Great Big World or KONGOS or Prince at the moment, they won’t be throwing their coins at you.

Amy Heidemann sings it best in “Neon Love”: “Baby, sometimes it’s hard enough just getting by/This neon love is destined to die.” It’s downright true: they’re better off conserving that electric pop pulse for whatever label they end up at next.

(Stream and pre-order Karmin’s Pulses, due in stores March 25)

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SINGLE REVIEW: Karmin – “Acapella” (+ Lyrics)

Harmonizing for another hit.

Harmonizing for another hit.

Boston’s sultans of swag pop, the male-female duo Karmin, brought an edge to the music world through their creative YouTube covers of rap songs (and others) and eventual original music, like 2011’s “Crash Your Party” and 2012’s “Brokenhearted” and “Hello”. Each received mainstream radio airplay, with “Brokenhearted” becoming the breakout hit of the bunch, going as high as #16 on the Hot 100. Their Hello EP also charted in the top 20 on the album chart. Over the holidays, the twosome of Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan recorded a version of “Sleigh Ride”, which was offered as a free download through a sponsorship through the store Coach, but that was the last of any new music we heard from them. Now, the duo signed to Epic Records have produced an epic single titled “Acapella”, which has now been serviced to radio.

“Acapella” is largely different from the single material on Hello in that it relies heavily on the vocal and a lot of bass and drum loops, whereas some of their former stuff freely used guitar and synthesizer. The barely there arrangement takes a little getting used to, but you’ll be more focused on the lyrics than anything else. Like their hit “Hello”, the song features Heidemann rapping in the verses and singing the chorus/middle eight, with Noonan sharing a few lines in the second verse. Hey, at least it’s not reduced to a “Cheerio!” this time around, but I would like to see him more prominently featured on the rest of the album. (By the way, the only parts of this song that are actually acapella are the introduction (vocal and beatboxing), the ending line of the chorus (vocal only) and the middle eight (vocal only).)

Heidemann, in her Nicki Minaj-lite style, takes to the mic and wraps her way around name-checking two childhood fairytales, a toothpaste brand, a recent Justin Timberlake single and a popular Italian restaurant chain, among other references that fall seamlessly into place. It’s a cute song and a relatable to a teen audience at the same time, especially those who feel compelled to break off their relationship. Plus, they sound like they’re having fun. It’s a little bit silly, but it’s enjoyable, especially when Heidemann goes into her “falsett-uh“. Four out of five rooster impressionists would agree she does her call well. Possibly the only aspect of the song that gets a little bit annoying is the slowed-down vocal effect throughout the song, which is trying too hard to recreate Yello‘s “Oh Yeah”. I mean, this isn’t Nick Noonan’s Day Off, hello! Or, maybe it is. This song moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to listen to individual component, you could miss it.

With many acts taking a retro direction when it comes to single releases, this should at least stand out for skewing way more in the modern realm. It’s equal parts commercial and risky given the nature of it, but Karmin isn’t exactly known for playing it safe. As for now, I’m predicting a top 20 peak at CHR radio for it, with a quick fall after it peaks later this summer. It’s polarizing enough, and hopefully, there will even better second single to come, but I’m satisfied with the results here. I’m always good with a hometown act succeeding, so please guys, don’t leave us brokencharted tonight (or over the next few nights, weeks, months… you know what I mean.)

Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.

Listen to the premiere of Karmin‘s “Acapella”.

“ACAPELLA”

[Chorus]
Used to be your baby, used to be your lady
Thought you were the perfect lover
All the harmony went falling out of key, so
Now you gotta find another
Now you’re talking crazy saying that you made me
Like I was your Cinderella
You and me are through, though, watch me hit it solo
I’mma do it acapella (x2)

[Verse 1]
Once upon a time, I met the perfect guy
He had that Colgate smile, he had that suit and tie
Mama always said get a rich boyfriend
You don’t gotta love ’em, girl, you can pretend
You bet, I totes believed her, yeah, every word she said
Thought he was gluten-free, but all that I got was bread
Mama always said nice guys finish last
Beat ’em at his own game, honey, take the cash

[Pre-Chorus]
Ooh, and what a lucky girl you will be
But no, he didn’t do jack for me
I want a bean with a beanstalk
And if the magic ain’t right, time to walk

[Chorus]
Used to be your baby, used to be your lady
Thought you were the perfect lover
All the harmony went falling out of key, so
Now you gotta find another
Now you’re talking crazy saying that you made me
Like I was your Cinderella
You and me are through, though, watch me hit it solo
I’mma do it acapella, yeah

Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
I’mma do it acapella, yeah

[Verse 2]
Out on our first date, he took me gourmet
We hit that Olive Garden, my Little Italy
Daddy always said let the gentleman pay
Never ever go Dutch at the buffet
I saw his bad intention, he didn’t wanna talk
He put the saucy on it (Oops!) time to check my watch
Daddy always said money can’t buy class
You don’t wanna get stuck taking out trash

[Pre-Chorus – variation]
Ooh, yeah I guess it wasn’t meant to be
Because he didn’t do jack for me
I want a bean with a beanstalk
And if the magic ain’t right, time to walk

[Chorus]
Used to be your baby, used to be your lady
Thought you were the perfect lover
All the harmony went falling out of key, so
Now you gotta find another
Now you’re talking crazy saying that you made me
Like I was your Cinderella
You and me are through, though, watch me hit it solo
I’mma do it acapella, yeah

[Middle 8]
Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
I’mma do it acapella
Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Watch me do it in falsett-uh
Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
Never mind, bring the beat back

[Chorus]
Used to be a baby, used to be a lady
Thought you were the perfect lover
All the harmony went falling out of key, so
Now you gotta find another
Now you’re talking crazy saying that you made me
Like I was your Cinderella
You and me are through, though, watch me hit it solo
I’mma do it acapella, yeah

Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
I’mma do it acapella, yeah

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