Album Review: The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack

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The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack - The Soft Pack (Image courtesy of Kemado Records)

The Soft Pack—a San Diego-via-L.A. outfit formerly called The Muslims—released their self-titled debut LP on February 2 after a handful of singles and a lot of buzz. Echoing the early-'00s arrival of rock revivalists like the Strokes and the Hives, the band's dry indie rock style evokes Pavement moonlighting as a Stooges cover band. Perhaps owing to their Southern California roots, the band's sardonic, nihilistic garage-rock has a feeling of manic fun to it as well.

Yet the band's sun-blasted indie also has some more unexpected sonic wrinkles. For one, their disorderly garage-rock head rush is colored by a surprisingly deep and clean (if predictably stripped-down) production sound, with David Lantzman's excellent bass-playing sounding especially crisp. Throughout The Soft Pack, the band's punk-inflected indie reveals a distinct post-punk undertow, as many of their best songs are haunted by a cold pathos reminiscent of Joy Division and a spectral rage seemingly sourced in Mission of Burma's taut furor. Crowning it all off is singer Matt Lamkin's brilliantly bored intonation, which makes the band's lyrics sound at once distracted and caustic.

On songs like "Flammable" and "Answer to Yourself," this rock cocktail is portentous and furious, with the band in total command and Lamkin tossing off simple but addictive melodies. Opener "C'Mon" sounds similar, but with a healthy dose of upbeat vibes added in. The simple chorus—you guessed it: "Ah, c'mon/ ah, c'mon/ ah, c'mon"—cements the song as The Soft Pack's carefree anthem.

The awesome album closer "Parasites" is the band at their catchiest and most taut, dishing out relentless guitar fuzz and a petulant vocal performance. At five minutes, it's the album's longest song by far, yet it breezes by on the strength of its killer melody and lyrics. When the intensity is cranked down, though, the band still has some lovely moments. "More or Less," for example, weds a nimble, high-pitched lead-guitar riff to a plodding jangle. "Down on Loving" keeps the tempo up while serving up a softer, poppier hook than you'll find anywhere else on the album, although Lamkin still keeps the song rough around the edges with his motormouth verses.

Yet even as the band hearkens back to timeless punk, garage rock, and post-punk, when they're not firing on all cylinders, they tend to sound like they're doing an impression of Iggy and company rather than viscerally channeling them. Indeed, not every track on The Soft Pack finds the band fully clicking, and with the album's half-hour running time, the filler becomes more noticeable. Ignoring their clear gift for churning out muscular rhythms, they smear the sonic palette of tunes like "Pull Out" and "Move Along" with ungainly, distracting organ-playing.

The fatal flaws of The Soft Pack, then, are that it is too slight, too tame, and too short. But to adopt a more optimistic take, maybe the album is a little bit like spring and summer, the seasons the band's music is most suited for. Sunny, fun, and over in a heartbeat, The Soft Pack, it seems, may have just been released a month or two too early. Keep this one in rotation 'til the snow melts.