Gnarly Karma – Classic Breeze

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It’s hard to know where to start with Gnarly Karma’s Classic Breeze. Even after multiple hearings, you may find yourself humming along and thinking, man, where have I heard this before? The great thing about that is that you have, but you haven’t. The album’s nine songs clearly reveal the band’s stylistic influences but there’s not a single song that will resolutely remind you of anyone. They’ve so completely absorbed the useful from each of their musical influences that any similarities are wound tightly into the band’s artistic DNA. The final ingredient in this winning concoction is the clear, immediate production defining each song. Gnarly Karma obviously understands the value of presentation and the production has placed each of these tracks in a spectacular position to get over with listeners.

“Open Up (Let Yourself Go)” is a fantastic, romping opener with fist-pumping rock and roll energy. Despite using a relatively light-handed approach, relying on brass and the rhythm section to provide the needed sonic punch, Gnarly Karma generates impressive heat with this kick off. The rhythm section plays a big part in this thanks to their groove-centered, aggressive take on the bottom end. “Please Come Home” shaves some of the preceding song’s energy back, but it nevertheless cooks with much of the same restless movement distinguishing the album’s first track. One of the album’s indisputable highlights comes with “Directions”, a lyrical and musical bonanza with the best performance yet from Gnarly Karma’s rhythm section and sharply observed lyrics with often surprising twists at the end of each line. Guitarist and lead singer Mike Renert really sets himself apart here with a syllable-twisting performance guaranteed to stick in your memory.

“Been There Before” and “Eyes Closed” each, in their respective fashions, change up the album’s mood and move it beyond mere uptempo, acoustic driven jam rock. The first track is, by far, the more typical “ballad”, but it resists the sentimentality and pandering so often associated with the form. “Eyes Closed”, however, touches on the ballad form while maintaining a strong hold on its obvious R&B roots. “Young Vibes” brings in a guest vocalist, but the ultra-contemporary track never loses its way surrounded by the band’s more typical fare. All of the ingredients making Gnarly Karma who they are can be found here, present and accounted for. The band takes another turn towards the dramatic with “Neptune”. It begins as a rather relaxed track, but discontent is bubbling beneath the placid musical surface and, as it progresses, the cool calm pervading its first begins breaking down. Renert’s vocal, by song’s end, has been reduced from an appealing pop croon into something harsh, hoarse, and struggling for breath.

The album’s final song, “Shadows”, gives Gnarly Karma a chance to extend themselves musically in a variety of ways. It’s the album’s longest track and Karma structures it in different movements with their own sonic character. Rather than biting off more than chew artistically, “Shadows” reveals a band possessing more than enough imaginative diversity to orchestrate the song’s dynamics in a compelling way. Classic Breeze makes a big impact without ever coming off brash or self-indulgent and few songs reflect that better than the finale. Gnarly Karma might be a new voice, but we will be hearing more.

9 out of 10 stars.

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Scott Wigley