Karmin’s full-length debut has its moments, and its misses
Karmin • Pulses • Epic • US Release Date: March 25, 2014
Making a viral urban-pop act translate into a commercial recording artist can be a challenge. Duo Karmin (Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan) made a gargantuan splash via YouTube building a notable fan base by covering popular songs. However, making their viral success with those covers translate into radio-friendly commercial success requires adding more structure and a bag of pop tricks to the mix. Some of the rawness of an electrifying interpretation of “Look At Me Now” falls by the wayside.
Additionally, more production and sheen are required to make Karmin truly fit the pop billing. Even as the duo goes through their ‘adjustment’ period towards pop stardom, first full-lengthy album has its moments. Don’t call Pulses a masterpiece – it’s not by any means or any sense of the word. It does, however, show some of the potential of the duo as well as kinks that must be worked out to make them truly a viable commercial commodity. Ultimately Pulses is a mixed bag as opposed to an acclaimed tour de force.
“Geronimo Intro” opens Pulses, um, off-putting. What’s the point of the slick 0:36 intro – “That is the question!” All I got personally from it was something about “dum-dum-di-di” whatever that is supposed to be. “Pulses” makes up for any confusion, proving to be quite enjoyable and catchy. Amy’s raps aren’t too corny – strike that – they are pleasantly corny: “I wanna raise pulses / La chica with the most-est / not in the mood for the average Josephs / coming unglued, baby this is explosive / Uh, I wanna raise pulses.” Nick’s chorus is addictive: “I wanna make your heart beat / I love it when it beats for me…I’mma make sure that you feel alive.” In addition to the lyrics, the gimmicky hip-hop oriented production is a highlight. On underrated single “Acapella”, things continue to look up for the duo, from the irresistible hook to the key lyrics “Mama/Daddy always said…” which get hip-hop rhythmic treatment. “Acappella” is also corny and gimmicky, but it works, particularly given the perceived identity of the duo.
Single “I Want It All” also ‘works’, driven by its soulful groove and throwback horns. Honestly, “I Want It All” would’ve fit perfectly on Pharrell Williams’ G I R L – sort of hard to believe he had nothing to do with this cut! The message is simple, but effective, exemplified by the chorus: “All I need is one more night with you / it’s amazing what just one more night can do / I want it all / I want it all.” After being three-for-three (“Pulses”, “Acapella”, and “I Want It All”), “Night Like This” isn’t quite as triumphant, but it’s okay and nothing more. Perhaps it’s the overenthusiastic rhythmic guitar that holds “Night Like This” back, or the slight overproduction in general? “Neon Love” goes for pop balladry territory, intact with piano, strings, and slackened tempo. Beginning initially more restrained, “Neon Love” ascends into a more powerful cut, assisted by Nick’s harmony vocals reinforcing Amy’s lead. The results are again, decent/okay if a bit of a bore.
“Drifter” has a sick beat and sick production, if nothing else. A gimmicky urban-pop cut, Amy sings and of course channels her inner Nicki Minaj-ness – without the profanity. Again, if you don’t mind your rhymes utterly stupid, then maybe you can appreciate Amy’s skills (“Million dollar boat, million dollar breeze / steer clear to the top of the world with ease / Diddy money dirty, chilling ‘cross the seas… ”). Still, she’s more effective vocally, really. On “Tidal Wave”, Nick seems to get his most assertive role in – well ever. Vocally, Nick has his own solos here, in equal importance to Amy. The duet is also powerful, mostly because of vocal production that respects each voice equally. “Tidal Wave” certainly isn’t the greatest pop song ever written or performed, but there is potential. The songwriting on the chorus certainly catches the ear: “The tidal wave is forcing us to swim at a distance / so our love is washing away / with all the push and pull we’re caught up in / can we brave the tidal wave.”
On “Gasoline”, Nick continues his assertiveness, leading the charge. “Gasoline” ends up being a combination of urban, pop, and reggae sensibilities – chocked to the brim! Don’t call “Gasoline” a true ‘fire starter’ or the most memorable cut contextually, but its good…enough that is. “Puppet” allures more, a sentiment one experiences from the start. The drums bang hard, the production is manic (in a positive way), and Amy does her thing. Oh BTW, you know that ridiculously silly pop-rap duo 3OH!3 – they serve as co-writers with Nathaniel Motte sitting in the producer’s chair. “Puppet” has that ‘swagger’ that some preceding cuts such as “Gasoline” and “Drifter” are lacking in. What’s incredibly impressive is how soulful Amy’s vocals are – she definitely has some sick vocal riffs here. The confidence transfers lyrically as well: “Don’t you get the feeling that you’re tangled up / I can pull a string until it’s good enough / but don’t you love it, love it / when you’re my puppet, puppet.”
There’s nothing wrong with the four on the floor groove of “Hate To Love You” – not to mention its bright, sunny sound – but an argument could be made that the familiar sounding pop is more conservative than “Puppet”. Amy and Nick sing well here by all means, even if the track sounds comparable to a host of other big pop records. This is the duo’s “I Gotta Feeling” (Black Eyed Peas), only less notable. Penultimate joint “Try Me On” again resurrects Amy’s inner rap diva (for better or for worse) while the minor key centered “What’s In It For Me” is exceptionally produced and expectedly tongue-in-cheek. Karmin’s own Lady Gaga track – perhaps that’s a sound description for “What’s In It For Me”.
All said and done, Pulses does just enough (if that) and little more. The front portion of the album is worthwhile as “Pulses”, “Acapella”, and “I Want It All” builds some incredible momentum. As the effort progresses – save for the occasional spark or two – things are mediocre. Perhaps Pulses isn’t quite, um, terrible, but it’s definitely neither cohesive nor great. It’s time for Karmin truly develop an artistic identity that is conducive to commercial success. The singles from Pulses as of yet haven’t landed the duo a big-time pop breakthrough (no “Brokenhearted” here), so finding the right record will be crucial to future successes.
“Pulses”; “Acapella”; “I Want It All”; “Puppet”