Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: Mexican Summer
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
While The Soft Pack’s self-titled debut introduced the group as pimple-popping freshman at the School of Post-Punk Revival, their latest album, Strapped, presents the foursome as the school’s pock-faced valedictorians. The album plays out like a seminar that could be aptly titled “1977: From Great Britain to the Bowery,” as almost every track is inflected with the sounds and sentiments from that great year in music. The album’s opener, “Saratoga,” careens with an In the City intensity, showing off angst and distortion as singer Matt Lamkin casually asks, “Could you describe what you feel you’re doing? / From my side, it seems like you’re screwing everyone all around you.
When faced with the Let's Make A Deal scenario that so many bands are faced with before embarking on the creative process behind their second album (charge into difficult experimental territory behind Door #1? Stay the course with more of the same behind Door #2?), The Soft Pack apparently split up their four members and sent two through each door. What came out is Strapped, an album that is admirable in its fearlessness, comforting in its overall familiarity, and strangely charming in its missteps. Before Strapped, the San Diego quartet could have easily been filed away with the legions of competent but ultimately unremarkable garage rock bands populating the United States during the last half decade.
Briefly, in 2009, LA’s The Soft Pack (once upon a time known as The Muslims) were built up by some people (us, mainly) as the new Strokes. Their self-titled debut was a great record, but, unfortunately, it failed to see them fulfil that particular destiny. The lack of arena-rock success, though, means the follow-up from Matt Lamkin and co arrives with no pressure or expectation on its shoulders – but it’s no failure.
The Soft PackStrapped[Mexican Summer; 2012]By Brendan Frank; September 26, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetCall them a janglier version of the Replacements, a more assertive Real Estate, a pillowy Ramones, the point is The Soft Pack have a number of bases for comparison. Not that that is something that really seems to cross their minds – and besides, it’s nothing that good, quality songwriting can’t overcome anyways. True to form, the San Diego startups formerly known as The Muslims have followed up their strong self-titled 2010 debut with another batch of clean, friendly, sun-kissed pop tunes.
The sound the Soft Pack forged on their self-titled debut album and in their work as the Muslims was so simple that it was inevitable that they'd branch out at some point. Strapped finds the band incorporating more elements -- particularly keyboards and saxophone -- into their music for a more polished and expansive sound. While the results are often nice, they're not always necessary; the contrast between Matt Lamkin's witty, somewhat insular thoughts and the band's spare, propulsive rock was a big part of their previous appeal.
The Soft Pack’s Strapped is a curiously unadventurous record, considering it was two years in the making. That’s not to say it’s a lousy record. It’s just that, despite the addition of synthy bloops and the occasional blurt of a horn, the tracks on Strapped aren’t much of a departure from the clipped, straightforward pop-rock of their 2010 self-titled debut.
On their self-titled debut, the Soft Pack proved they could rock out and play it cool at the same time. The Los Angeles-by-way-of-San Diego quartet pitted bombastic rhythms against naive three-note hooks. Even when they got loud, singer/guitarist Matt Lamkin stayed cool and collected, delivering his cynical verses with a mellow slacker poise. The group's first batch of songs found a comfortable niche between the velocity of its hometown heroes, like Hot Snakes and Rocket From the Crypt, and the slanted melodicism of New Zealand indie rock gurus the Clean.
The Soft Pack have a taken a simple but effective method to their music. Take a hint of the rattle and hum of The Hot Snakes, mixed with a bit of The Replacements' catchy hooks and out pops out Strapped, The Soft Pack's third full length following their 2010 self-titled. The San Diego natives turned LA transplants have crafted a solid garage rock opus in their latest offering.
A few weeks back, I watched Amoeba Records’ What’s in My Bag, where musicians share their store purchases, featuring San Diego rockers The Soft Pack. With remarkably similar tastes, the foursome snagged LPs from Funkadelic, R.E.M., Kurt Vile, Mazzy Star, Can, The Doors, and more. What’s surprising about those choices is that there’s not nearly enough of those diverse and intriguing influences present on the band’s 2010 debut self-titled album.
The Soft Pack, if you follow their artwork and their vibe, feel like an extension of that now seemingly far away movement we called chillwave. They seem perpetually laid back, perpetually nostalgic (while possibly lounging on the beach) and their sound has a distinct, late-afternoon haze to it. And yet, what make the Soft Pack so formidable on their debut was, unlike those chillwave bands, the Soft Pack liked rock music, liked thick hooks, liked thumping drums.
The second album is usually a tipping point for a band; a key factor in deciding whether they will go on to flourish and develop or drift off in to obscurity. Fortunately, for Los Angeles quartet The Soft Pack their second full-length ‘Strapped’ is a significant step forward from their debut; far more expansive and ambitious. While their first LP was a punchy collection of straight-ahead garage rock, very much reverential in nature, this sees the band operating from a far broader sonic pallet.
California garage-rock band the Soft Pack is growing up. With its second album, Strapped (third if you count its first record under the moniker the Muslims), the band upholds its cut-and-run rock attitude, with nine out of the 12 songs on the album spanning less than three minutes. But there is a greater variety of instruments here—a saxophone, synthesizers—that shows that the band is branching out and trying to build beyond its snotty, jangly, punk-addled blasts of sound.Strapped opens with “Saratoga,” a good introduction to the band’s new style.