Sound: Karate High School's latest CD release Invaders seems to delve more heavily into the power pop sound more so than ever before, and the results are usually hit or miss. While there is something extremely likable about the quartet and its witty/self-effacing lyrics, the musical aspect of the album is still fairly predictable. On the other hand, experimentation is not necessarily what every individual in the KHS fan base is expecting and that might even turn a lot of their listeners off. The biggest change comes in the fact that the songs revolve around the melodic, poppy delivery of vocalist/keyboardist Paul McGuire more than ever before, and the rock edge does seem to have been pared back a bit.
McGuire apparently took a pretty bare bones approach to producing Invaders, which was recorded in his old bedroom at his mother's house. The audio isn't an issue, and it's actually pretty amazing that they came out with such clarity. The frontman could show some big-time production houses a thing or two as far as studio sessions are concerned. McGuire wrote pretty much of all of the material, and you'll find that the majority of the tracks feature quirky keyboard lines that often echo the vocal line. Of the 11 tracks on the playlist, Zombies Everywhere (which features a nice little militaristic snare action) and One Trip Around The Sun (the oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs are in full force) seem destined to be the singles off of the album thanks to highly singable choruses and their heavy pop elements.
The term pop punk gets thrown around a lot, and during their 5 years together KHS occasionally fits into the genre. With Invaders, the guitars really take a backseat and depending on the listener, that could be a good or bad thing. At first it was a little disconcerting to hear Punk Rock Uniform, which basically is celebrating the individuality of punk rock kids. The problem is that it's hard to take it seriously, given the fact that it's a pop song that places the guitar way back in the mix. The guys in KHS aren't dumb, however, and even mention in the lyrics that the setup is slightly weird (a little wrong that I'm talking about punk in a pop punk song). McGuire goes on to state that he was that punk rock kid that felt out of place, so in a way you can give him a pass on that one.
While a good number of alternative rock/pop bands do like to go the way of the ballad these days, things remain pretty upbeat on Invaders. The band does take a turn in the last track Dear You, It's Me, which is a surprisingly effective and heartfelt ballad. The band keeps it fairly stripped down instrumentally (vocals and piano are given the spotlight for a good portion), and it works perfectly. While it won't appease any listeners who are craving more of an edge to the overall album, it shows they don't have to rely on crazy little keyboard lines. // 7
Lyrics: There's certainly an emphasis on the silly during many of the songs on Invaders, but every once in awhile McGuire will surprise us with a smart and/or witty comment. He called himself out during Punk Rock Uniform (just in the nick of time), while there are some rather amusing ways he uses to describe his new gal, a 5'3 robot, in Fell In Love With Robot. Zombies Everywhere is about, well, exactly what you think. It tells the tale of brain-eating beings taking over the earth with lines like, They're coming for your brains; And it's too late to change; I saw you die that day; We put you in the ground; But somehow now you're awake. There's not quite as much talk about relationships/feelings as you get with some power pop bands, so that may be the biggest selling point of all. // 8
Overall Impression: Karate High School will certainly find a niche audience with its happy-go-lucky lyrics and pop-driven sound, but it's not going to be for everyone. The songs are certainly catchy, but you do get the feeling that you've heard them before by a good number of Warped Tour bands. The ballad Dear You, It's Me is the most satisfying surprise on Invaders, and the quartet might want to go down that road more often on future albums. // 7