Gnarly Karma are an often surprising four piece rock band from the New York City area and their debut album, Classic Breeze, does a superb job of condensing their sound into eight full length songs. Even a brief listen to their material will reveal half dozen musical influences to music devotees, but Gnarly Breeze avoids outright imitation. Their original material is entertaining, often unpredictable, and marked with flashes of startling insight in its lyrical content. The music sparks with tremendous energy, but this isn’t eight songs of rampaging jam band good vibes. Gnarly Karma knows how and when to slow things down, has a strong grip on dynamics, and avoids any virtuosic excesses.
Those characteristics are apparent on the first song, “Open Up (Let Yourself Go)”. Mike Renert has a high speed motor as a guitar player, but his playing is never sloppy or unfocused. His relentless thrashing finds a good counterpoint in his enthusiastic, emotive vocal, but it’s the sum rather than individual parts that distinguish the song. The band tempers their energy some for “Please Come Home” and strips back the sonic template so rich in the preceding track. The band has a varied instrumental approach, including alto and tenor saxophone as well as harmonica, but they show good taste in not slathering every track with needless adornments. The memorable melody and groove of “Directions” is matched by its clever lyric and lead singer Renert’s delivery. Gnarly Karma’s rhythm section snaps and pops, stretching unpredictably and elongating assorted phrases, to give the song impressive elasticity. The small bevy of brass at the band’s disposal emerges in full on “Eyes Closed” and its presence steers the track in an unique direction compared to the earlier songs.
“Neptune” spends much of its running time moving in a stately, almost circular way. However, as the end draws closer, Renert’s voice becomes increasingly shrill, even unhinged, as the carefully cultivated calm opening the track gives way to rage and hysteria. The music, however, maintains a comparatively even keel in response and only occasionally flares in complement to Renert’s singing. There is an interesting cross section of material powering Gnarly Karma’s debut release and the varied textures help separate the songs from each other in significant ways. The material holds up under repeated listening. “Neptune” is a strong culmination for the album and highlights the band’s strengths well.
Classic Breeze and some of the song titles imply, at first glance, that Gnarly Karma is some sort of good time party band. However, while their songwriting proves rather entertaining, one attentive pass through the album’s songs reveals them to be something more than just a raise the roof act. Instead, they are clearly a focused unit of musicians and writers with clear aims. This is more than just a promising debut; Classic Breeze serves notice of an important indie band’s arrival.
by Lydia Hillenburg