Baltimore isn't known as a fun-in-the-sun, bubblegum locale. And perhaps that's why some of its most notable recent music has had an earnest, transcendent air -- Lungfish and Daniel Higgs' solo work, not to mention the experimental sounds of the High Zero Collective.
Karmella's Game, though, doesn't fit that profile. The four-piece synth-pop outfit has emerged from Charm City armed with riffs coated with sugar and dripping with, well, charm.
The band released an EP and a full-length, The Art of Distraction, on Baltimore's Speedbump Recordings, both well received in the blogosphere amongst niche audiences and in less likely places (lefty blog commentator Matthew Yglesias, for example, extolled their sounds). Both recordings exhibit energetic and emotional power pop driven by the vocals of keyboardist KTO (Katie Ostrosky), rounded out by Katie's brother Joe on drums, bassist Mandy Koch and guitarist Aaron Smith. But there's no doubt where the band is centered: the synth.
While the synth sounds recall the '80s, a lot of the band's reference points can be found in the earlier part of this decade; the lyrics' personal poetics are reminiscent of early Rainer Maria or Pretty Girls Make Graves. The songs' themes mainly deal obliquely with relationships but frequently veer into a critique of technological society (The Art of Distraction ends with a song titled "Symbiosis: The Great Machine.")
But despite the band's healthy skepticism of new technology, Karmella's Game is ahead of the curve on cyber promotion. Both recordings can be streamed in their entirety from the band's Web site whenever visitors please -- something of a compromise between traditional distribution and the so-called "Radiohead model" of offering free downloads and accepting donations. And visiting the site, which feels a little like an MIT Media Lab senior project, is an entertainment experience in and of itself.
Karmella's Game with Slingshot Dakota and Bridgley Moore. 10 p.m. Thu., April 24. Lava Lounge, 2204 E. Carson St., South Side. $5. 412-431-5282