Karmella’s Game – The Art of Distraction

Karmella’s Game
The Art of Distraction

In recent years, The Sounds have consistently impressed me with their unforgettable melodies and synthesizer-heavy rock riffs that are equally enjoyable on the first and 21st listens. Perhaps it’s a Scandinavian thing, as many of my favorite artists hail from Sweden and Norway, or does national origin have nothing to do with Maja Ivarsson and company capturing me instantly and repeatedly? Either way, I’m a dedicated fan of both albums by The Sounds. With their debut album, The Art of Distraction, the four Baltimoreans who make up Karmella’s Game offer welcome and worthy competition to Ivarsson and her mates.

When I last reviewed a record by Karmella’s Game, it was the impressive EP What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him in April 2004. As strong as that work was, The Art of Distraction raises Karmella’s Game to new heights with improvements on already significant skills and talents. Lead singer and keyboardist KTO delivers dynamic vocals cleanly and passionately on the album with emphasized synthesizers that serve as an instrumental background voice. As to the actual human voices supporting KTO, Mandy Koch (bass), Joe Ostrosky (drums), and Damian Nopolus (guitars on this album, replaced since then by Aaron Smith) harmonize beautifully within and outside of their instrumental performance.

The opening track, “Diversions,” speeds along siren-like synthesized loops as power-pop beats pound out an unspoken directive to move the feet. The slowed pace and male vocals near the end of the song give it a classic early-80s European pop feel. “Skip the Funeral” alternates tempo and vocal styles, with KTO embracing the high-pitch typical of speedy punk-pop but also demonstrating her ability to confidently handle longer uninterrupted choruses. “Cyberspace Lip Gloss” recalls No Doubt in rhythmic structure and lead vocal performance. Ostrosky and Koch brilliantly guide the song through an aural roller coaster. No disrespect to KTO and Nopolus, but “Cyberspace Lip Gloss” is a major victory particularly for the rhythm section.

As The Art of Distraction proceeds, Karmella’s Game demonstrates a mastery of styles ranging from late-70s new-wave to mid-80s pop and early-21st-century post-punk. “A Lullabye” is the band’s greatest song on record yet, a perfect combination of mild aggression, confident feminine in-your-face lyrics, magnetic female-male harmony, and a combination of tempered beats and emotionally inspiring low-key synth-pop. Slower tracks like “The Remains” and the album closer, “Symbiosis: The Great Machine,” emphasize KTO’s vocal range and the band’s ability to create and convincingly perform synthesized torch songs. There is nothing contrived here; the emotion is raw, the lyrical sentiments honest, and the blend of voices and instruments much more interesting than most similar offerings these days.

With a few more four-minute rockers driven by keyboards between the aforementioned songs, Karmella’s Game tackles relationships, “Safely Negative” tests, and communication difficulties. “One Phone Call” is the most striking connection to the What He Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him EP from two years ago, the simple repeated chorus of the track title recalling the earlier, less sophisticated songs of Karmella’s Game – enjoyable in their own right but not as permanently affecting as what the band offers via The Art of Distraction.

It’s refreshing and rewarding to hear how much Karmella’s Game has developed since its notable recording debut just a few years ago. The Art of Distraction is an exciting, emotionally substantive album from a band that goes from strength to strength. This is top-10 work, ladies and gents. My advice: start playing Karmella’s Game now to avoid feeling like the late-coming loser.