The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack
Record Label: Kemado
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Under most circumstances, I'd say we need another hyped-up garage-rock band about as much as we need another dim-witted movie about vampires or huge fucking robots with guns (both, now that could be a cool idea). The Soft Pack, however, are not your garden-variety buzz band, and upon my first listen to their new self-titled release (and first for the uber-hip Kemado label), I couldn't help but note how wholly it embodies the devil-may-care bluster of The Replacements. It's probably too early to tell how this album will sit in the next month or year, let alone discuss its long-term legacy, but with its drawing of influences from across the annals of pop history combined with a rare mix of rock 'n roll swagger and punk rock ethos, if this were to go down as the Let It Be of the Jersey Shore generation, my first inclination is to say I'd be more than fine with that.
A song like "C'mon" is the perfect way to open the album, a potent, two-minute shot of pure energy that teeters on the edge of chaos, but manages to stay controlled and melodic. The title of "Down on Loving" suggests that it's a broken-hearted lament, but it too is a briskly paced rave on which vocalist Matt Lamkin sings about being disenchanted with affairs of the heart. He sees couples in love all around, but rather than being desperate to experience the same, he's content being alone, wondering what the big deal is. "Answer to Yourself" is chock full of the jangle that characterized the lighter side of the '80s American Underground scene and carries with it an empowered and fiercely individualistic message. There's also a retro vibe to "Move Along", though it's messier and more visceral, a reflection of The Stooges' intense proto-punk influence.
"Pull Out" has a distinct early-'60s surf-rock feel, but between the interspersed clangy guitar tones and Lamkin's deadpan bark, it sounds like it's channeling early Mission of Burma just as much as it is The Ventures. "More or Less" covers much of the same reverb-soaked sonic territory, but comes off as a little more sophisticated, with Lamkin making a statement against materialism ("you want more than anyone else, yet you have more than anyone else"). "Tides of Time" also features more of those cascading semi-distorted guitar textures, but these songs have a quality, aided by Lamkin's detached delivery, that prevents them from sounding all sunny and beachy and keeps them firmly planted somewhere in the apathetic middle, where most of us find ourselves most of the time.
After those primarily mid-tempo tunes, The Soft Pack turn back up the aggression with the raucous "Flammable", the album's most all-out punk track. Things slow down to a shuffle on the fittingly South-of-the-border sounding "Mexico", before rising up with a flurry of guitars on the rollicking closer "Parasites". It's all over in just over a half-hour, but as cliche as it is to say, it's a ride you want take again immediately. It's a singular experience in that The Soft Pack don't wear their influences reverently on their sleeves so much as shake them all up to a bubbly fizz, and the resulting cocktail is a style distinctly their own. Eighties punk enthusiasts with a taste for hip modern bands like Japandroids, Tapes 'n Tapes and (the late) Jay Reatard, or hell, anyone who can appreciate spirited rock music delivered with verve, should find The Soft Pack to be a delightful and exciting listen.