Karma Gambit’s debut LP, This is Probably a Mistake, But…, is a forceful forging of signature Jack Linden folk-rock with blasts of Beatlesque/Bowie-like power-pop.
On Karma Gambit’s debut LP, This is Probably a Mistake, But …, singer-songwriter-guitarist Jack Linden combines the strong folk-rock of his previous band, Rose Boulevard, with blasts of power pop, largely forged from The Beatles and David Bowie, but also chunks of Cheap Trick and the whimsy and wonder of Weezer. There’s even a surprising reference to Rick Springfield.
Engineer-bassist-guitarist Sean Ahern does a great job crafting the disparate elements into a cohesive sound, while layering the gang vocals that permeate the 10-song collection and keeping the rhythms tight and energetic along with drummer Sean Clinton. Like Rose Boulevard, Karma Gambit features Linden’s younger brother, Jeff, a strong songwriter is his own right who fronts the Black Spot Society, which also features Jack. I would love to see the Linden Brothers form a band in which they share singing and songwriting responsibilities, but in the meantime, This is Probably a Mistake is a great excursion into the Beatlesque trip that is Jack Linden’s mind. Here’s a look at each track:
- “Still Frames,” a strong opener that sounds like The Cure at their most upbeat, such as “Friday I’m in Love.” A nice acoustic breakdown features fine acoustic guitar and piano playing respectively by the older and younger Linden brother that heightens the emotion of the fun track.
- “Prison Break,” a mash-up of good construction, hard edge and big beat that recalls the lighter side of Taking Back Sunday and the harder side of Plain White T’s.
- Charming Cashier,” a rollicking rocker that mines Springfield’s greatest hit, but instead of being Jessie’s girl, the unrequited love is a charming cashier. I love the line, “I’m having a staring contest with the clock, and I’m losing.”
- “Chameleon,” John Lennon-like mind game about an alluring lass who never smiles
- “Cardiac Kleptomaniac,” tongue-in-cheek Weezeresque rocker that marries acoustic art with alternative pop, along with Ahern’s grungy guitar and Jack Linden’s hearty strum.
- “Romantic Nightmare Theology 101,” standout track at its strongest in a chorus that states, “I wanna go back and get my degree. I’m interested in theology and figuring out what kind of god would create someone like me.” Really fun, retro-sounding ooing backing vocals and an acoustic bridge that slams into rockin’ guitars and drums also add to the fun, philosophical tune and showcase Linden’s strong songwriting.
- “Fire in Our Blood,” Paul Westerberg-like tune with haunting vocals by Jack and piano by Jeff that features the strongest lyrics in the bunch, especially the lines: “And I’m as desperate as a middle-aged man grasping for attention with a sports car and a new wife. At least he’s lasted that long. I’m a flash in the pan. People used to sing my songs, now I just wear my jeans too tight. She smoked a cigarette after we had sex. Sat out on the porch and watched our dreams turn into smoke rings. The only bright side is we’re not dead yet. I’m no scientist, but I know there’s a cure for being lonely.”
- “Magic 8,” XTC-like power-pop within a Bowiesque beat and wall of crunching guitar
- “The Acid of Love,” Weezer-ish tale of inaction and regret
- “Diamonds in the Spring,” haunting solo acoustic closer in which Linden eloquently expresses longing in the face of a goodbye.
See the Linden Brothers play together live in both their bands when Karma Gambit and the Black Spot Society help The Whispers celebrate the release of their debut EP on March 10 at Crossroads in Garwood along with Scout and Power Lines. Karma Gambit also will play April 6 at Asbury Park Music Foundation; April 19, The Asbury hotel, and April 20, John and Peter’s, New Hope.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.