Karmella’s Game – What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him EP

Karmella’s Game
What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him EP

One of the more interesting indie-rock developments in recent years is the return of the synthesizer. Whether set in the background for noticeable yet minimal effects or raised to prominence in tracks across the indie genre spectrum, the synthesizer has regained the legitimacy it seemed to lose while grunge and stripped-down indie rock ruled much of the 90s. Certainly, one of that decade’s bands that helped revive Moogs and Casios was The Rentals. Indeed, Karmella’s Game’s supporters have described the Baltimore quartet’s music as “Debbie Gibson fronting The Rentals.” Yet, such an image does a disservice to the band. Debbie Gibson was cute but never as confessional, raw, or energizing as Karmella’s Game is on its vigorous debut EP, What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him.
The opening track, “Coming Going Leaving,” begins with a few seconds of tame keyboards and then speedy guitars, heavy bass, and loud drums discharge. Lead singer and keyboardist KTO drives the song with her passionate singing and Moog swirls up and down, signifying the emotional roller-coaster of the relationship detailed in the immediate lyrics. KTO’s singing and keyboard abilities notwithstanding, Mandy’s bass playing and Joe’s drumming add a persistent, quick punch to “Coming Going Leaving” that strengthens the song from beginning to end. The band’s guitarist, Steve, trades lead vocal duties with KTO on “Knocked Flat in the First Round.” The male-female mix and occasionally simultaneous vocalizing enliven this sparkling rocker. The keyboards continue to loop and give the music electronic edge with sharp tones, while Mandy and Joe never miss a beat, literally.
As with its two predecessors on the EP, “Not the End” begins quietly, this time with nostalgic guitar chords and high pitched Moog lines. One minute in, the instrumental element speeds up and Joe pounds his skins harder, faster, with more determination. KTO then slowly sings, “Find the way to get back / To the place we were before / It’s all I can think of now.” And boom – the whole band shifts gears and rocks out at blistering but enjoyable levels. Again, kudos to Mandy and Joe for the slicing beats. Notably, “Not the End” highlights Steve’s strong guitar playing and backup vocals as it wraps up. “In Spite of Karl” has some echoed keyboard elements and recalls late 70s synth-rock experimentation. As with most of the EP’s tracks, “In Spite of Karl” narrates a difficult relationship from the first person perspective. Just when it seems the song is ending with KTO’s spacey keyboard reverberations, robotic keys and one final blasting chorus from her on lead vocals and Steve in the background bring “In Spite of Karl” to its actual end.
What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him closes with “Crazy Girl,” a torch song that would have served “Til Tuesday well in its early synth-pop days. Aimee Mann has gone acoustic and whimsical, so Karmella’s Game tries to fill the void and shines with “Crazy Girl.” KTO has a surprisingly dynamic vocal range for an indie-rock lead singer, best demonstrated on “Crazy Girl.” Even her shared sighs with Mandy in the chorus tug at your heart. The deep keyboard whirls that open the song similarly bring it and the EP to a successful end. What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him exposes Karmella’s Game’s instantly catchy melodies, punk harmonies, and appealing, fiery approach. It’s an EP that enters with the band’s catchiest song (“Coming Going Leaving”) and exits with the prettiest tune by Karmella’s Game, “Crazy Girl.” Perk up your ears for more synth-rock and fun thrills from this Baltimore quartet.