The Soft Pack

The Soft Pack

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The Soft Pack began their career as the Muslims, releasing a couple of witty, sharp-edged singles before negative comments about their name forced them to change it. However, everything else about the band’s smart, strummy sound remained the same, as their excellent Muslims EP and self-titled debut album proved. Listeners of a certain age (or at least a certain kind of record collection) will be struck by not just how much déjà vu The Soft Pack gives them, but how many kinds of it the album conjures. Within the band’s stripped-down rock, there are hints of ‘50s surf and ‘60s garage rock, echoes of ‘70s punk and new wave à la the Modern Lovers, traces of ‘80s college rock, and shades of Spoon, the Strokes, and other bands who kicked off the 2000s with back-to-basics sounds. Yet the Soft Pack’s music doesn’t feel overtly retro -- they’re just not trying hard to sound “modern.” Unlike some of their predecessors, their simplicity is more direct than arty, a bash-it-out and get-it-out-there approach that resulted in them releasing almost two albums’ worth of songs in just over a year. They’ve got the template of classic sounds down and failsafe pop instincts. While that might not seem particularly interesting, especially compared to the increasingly delicate, intricate indie of the late 2000s, The Soft Pack sounds vital. On “C’mon,” Matt Lamkin sings “your town could be the next big thing” in a reedy rasp devoid of irony; “Pull Out” is ostensibly a manifesto on California secession, but its relentless guitars pack a bigger wallop. The Soft Pack even believes in rock & roll as rebellion, in their own way: “Answer to Yourself” tears into poseurs and thieves with nagging hooks and the defiance of someone too grown up for a typical angry young man stance, but unwilling to give into the more resigned parts of maturity. Though they don’t waste time or mince words, The Soft Pack reveals a more nuanced band than when they were the Muslims. Next to the pitch-perfect pop of “Down on Loving” are moody exercises in story-telling like “Tides of Time,” which explores the undertow of their surf fetish, and the sleepy, tropical ballad “Mexico.” The band’s directness gets a little predictable on “Flammable” -- although their riffs still kick up dust -- and the mopey “More or Less.” It’s also somewhat surprising that none of the irresistible songs from their earlier singles and EPs made it onto this album, save for “Parasites,” which, with its surly vocals, subtle wordplay, and undeniable chug, remains one of their quintessential moments. At any rate, The Soft Pack allows this band an almost completely clean break with their past while showing they’re dynamic no matter what they’re called.

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