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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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