I had really high hopes for Karate High School. The album cover looks like a grainy screen shot from an obscure Nintendo game. Instead, it's more of the same old radio-ready pop punk, bland and generic with little bits of video-gamelike things thrown in as a kitschy afterthought. When, oh when, is someone going to do justice to, say, the water level of the first Mario Bros.? If members of Karate High School want to recall the master compositions of their youth, they should really go for it and produce something integrated—not a souvenir but an honest-to-goodness tribute.
This is a band that likes space. It's in the songs, taking big breaths, letting the good moments hang. And it's nice to listen to an album that doesn't fill every second with something new—or anything at all. This ageless, medium-tempo folky rock with gray-sky guitars is strongly reminiscent of Toad the Wet Sprocket, sans the melancholic vocal lines. Story Like a Scar is an earnest effort that earns its keep with lyrics and style.
If you're a member of the Coalition Against Synthesizer Abuse, this new wave indie pop album is cause for an angry letter. But if singers that can turn "way" into a three-syllable word are the kind of thing that really gets your uneven haircut all a-tumble, than Mark Thomas Kluepfel has got a tune for you. Either way, the tracks on this record are innovative and cohesive. It's a fun, broody listen. Before heading out to the Action Action show at the Launchpad on Tuesday, you should practice your swallowed rock drawl. Say it with me: waaaaeeeeeuuuuh.