From the opening moments of Karma Never Sleeps, I the Mighty demands your attention. Album opener, ‘The Dreamer,’ comes to life as an atmospheric hum fades into a reverse snare hit, soon swallowed into a vacuumesque moment of silence, that is shattered by pounding instrumentals. The following freewheeling vocal line sets the tone for the entire EP – it’s arching and imaginative while remaining controlled and structured. Alternating between a wall of sound and intentionally subdued verses and bridges, ‘The Dreamer,’ like much of Karma Never Sleeps, manages its dynamics effectively to ensure that the listener isn’t burned out by frenetic guitar work or bored by prolonged interludes. Lyrics and vocals play a prominent role in mood-setting as well, with lead singer Brent Walsh’s versatile range and visceral delivery expressing a diverse set of emotions and thoughts. Lines like the pre-chorus’s “Can you feel the earthquake coming on?” work with the underlying instrumentation to provide a perfect segue into the tectonic assault that the chorus provides. And while the soaring refrain of “Yeah” may not be not the greatest lyrical achievement of our time, it still presents a great – and excellently delivered – melodic line.
That “Yeah” aside, one of the great things about Karma Never Sleeps is its exploration of novel lyrical themes – or at least its novel presentation of pre-existing lyrical themes. ‘Dancing On A Tightrope’ is a song about preventing a friend from falling beneath what they’re capable of, and while the song is ultimately positive (the chorus reads, “I can’t help it; I won’t let you bury yourself”), the opening line (“You carry yourself like a lion’s in your pocket, but you lack the simple courage to move out of your parent’s house. I’m calling you out.”) gives me the opportunity to say something that I rarely get to say about lyrics: What a burn. There’s no real need to elaborate; that’s just an awesomely condescending line. Musically, the song is built around a super-catchy chorus (be prepared to hear that a few more times before this review is done) and a solid riff from both the intro and chorus, along with a quality gang chant in the bridge.
If there’s one drawback to Karma Never Sleeps, it’s the lyrics to ‘Cutting Room Floor,’ which provide some expressly political thoughts (the song starts by wondering, “If Hell broke out in the White House, how long would it take for word to carry here?”) but not much in the way of creative or articulate criticism. For example, the chorus repeats, “So why don’t you just leave?” which seems childish rather than thought provoking. I’m all for expressing displeasure with our government, if that’s what you feel, I’m just asking for a little more creativity and tact when doing so. That said, the vocals of the chorus are delivered so well, and with such controlled violence, that it’s hard not to appreciate the force of Walsh’s performance.
‘The Frame III: Sirocco’ is a nearly perfect construction of a hard rock single, even if I’m not sure where exactly parts I and II can be found. There’s a great riff and a textbook-perfect pre-chorus (0:32-0:45) consisting of an ascending chord progression and a brief instrumental minimization before making way for an absolutely thunderous chorus (which is, again, super-catchy). The verse keeps up the pace with a minimal arrangement focussing on a strong vocal melody, while some intricate guitar and drum work tears by in the background. All of this is outfitted with lyrics that examine the difficult ideas of war and patriotism, which makes sense given the song’s title and the lyrical allusions to Operation Desert Storm (fittingly, a sirocco is essentially a desert storm).
I the Mighty go on to take an interesting and unforeseen approach with ‘These Streets Are Alive,’ a song that describes the plight of the homeless. Positively dripping in sugary goodness, the instrumentals revel in simplicity as the hooks and lyrics act as driving forces on the song. Lyrically, the song is a plea for help and understanding from the perspective of the homeless, and it is pulled off quite well – particularly memorable is a long bridge describing the literal American dream (replete with red, white, and blue imagery). It is certainly interesting to hear a song addressing this particular problem and I can’t help but give credit to I the Mighty for even attempting to broach what is an oft overlooked social issue in America.
At the conclusion of Karma Never Sleeps is ‘Escalators,’ which by a hair over ‘The Dreamer,’ is probably the strongest song on the record. It opens with a solid riff and leads into a bare verse whose lyrics describe the spiritual shortcomings of greed and avarice. The subdued verse sets up an excellent bout of pre-chorus riffage which leads into a great (see: super-catchy) chorus that ends with yet another fantastic riff. The climax of the song, and album, is the gang-vocal bridge/chorus/outro wherein I the Mighty take to screaming “We’ll give you death by 45!” That performance may be the best dictum against living a spiritually/emotionally empty life to appear in a song in years.
In the end, I the Mighty brings a power rock sound not heard since the last appearance of Closure in Moscow; a great mix of technical riffs and fills with pop melodies and structures. The album’s strongest tracks, ‘Escalators’ and ‘The Dreamer’, present microcosms of the mixture of aggressive instrumentation, passionate vocals, and effective song structure that make Karma Never Sleeps great. The album’s lyrics, which get bonus points for not falling into any type of generic box, do occasionally become awkward in their attempts at wisdom, but I give I the Mighty credit for even trying something new in this age of lyrical mundanity. With a phenomenal vocal performance and some interesting lyrics draped over fun and occasionally technical instrumentation, Karma Never Sleeps is an album that warrants the attention of all fans of a vaguely post-hardcore sound.