The Soft Pack Continue to Tread Water

02/03/2010 4:40 AM |

The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack

To be frank, there’s lots to hate about the Soft Pack: a tendency to put style over substance, a laconic frontman too cool to care, enough West Coast smugness to piss off the average New Yorker; the fact that they used to be called the Muslims doesn’t seem to help, either. Despite it all, the EP they released in 2008 under their original name was met with plenty of excitement. It was pretty kick-ass, actually, full of three-chord garage rock very much from San Diego, looser and lighter than anything you’d get from Detroit or New York. But when initial pressings sold out, three additional tracks were added, turning the EP into a 10-song LP and leaving a bittersweet aftertaste in the mouths of listeners. If the extra tracks were to be looked at as a progress report, then it seemed the Muslims were treading water. None of them stood out as particularly interesting, with no improvement on singer Matt Lamkin’s uninspired lyrics (he likes to build entire songs around a few phrases, often their titles). Their first proper full-length—the world’s official introduction to the Soft Pack—doesn’t do much to change the course.

Here they’re left splicing three chords or less into recycled packages for the majority of the middle section. Though they’ve cranked up the noise factor a bit—durable riffs and double-time drumming are album trademarks—the lack of variety between (and even within) songs remains. But there is “Down on Loving,” with its chunky rhythm section and hulking down-and-out hook that could make it the year’s best anti-Valentine’s Day anthem, and “Mexico,” a drifting number that sounds like something from an upcoming Real Estate album. The small act of placing the bass high in the mix makes it a standout, if only for simply standing out. “Parasites” pounds out an Iggy Pop melody with parallel ferocity and “Tides of Time” creeps into your head when brushing your teeth. In short, tracks fall into three distinct categories—awesome, throwaways, and somewhere in between—which, sadly, doesn’t add up to a consistent album. The Soft Pack could be great, but here they’re just pretty good.

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