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The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack Ross Pounds , February 8th, 2010 14:37

What's in a name? Quite a bit as it turns out. San Diego's The Soft Pack were formerly known as The Muslims, but changed their moniker before the release of anything more than a couple of buzz-worthy singles in order to avoid stirring up further controversy, a fairly wise move given the current hysterical, brow-beating media climate. Tarred, a tad unfairly, with the accusation that the name change was about nothing more than self-publicity, the band retreated to the studio in order to crunch out this, their self-titled debut.

What's refreshing about The Soft Pack is that they're a no bullshit band. You don't worry about the bass player recording some horrendously mediocre noodlings under a terrible, half-arsed semi-homophonic pseudonym. It's unlikely that their guitarist will be adding 'vibes' of any kind to the next Devendra Banhart record. They didn't even give their album a title. It's just presented as it is; a rolling, bobbing, old-fashioned rock album. Thirty minutes. Ten tracks. No more, no less. It's kind of like if the Black Lips didn't sign to Vice, but rather were some obscure Southern 60s garage rockers that Lenny Kaye dug up from the vaults to put on the first Nuggets compilation back in '72. It doesn't feel so much like an album as much as one lazy, Sunday evening studio session, squeezed in between a few afternoon Budweiser's and Conan on NBC before bed. The lolloping base and simmering, rolled drums on the captivating 'Mexico' are a case in point; it's not an album of outstanding craft, of jaw-dropping musicianship, and nor does it pretend to be. Its throwaway qualities are what make so fresh and breezy. In an era when the last embers of lo-fi are dying quietly around Nathan Williams' barbeque and operatic, bombastic stadium rock from the likes of Matt Bellamy and his tawdry ilk are the order of the day on these shores, it's tremendously satisfying to see someone taking to the middle-ground with such aplomb.

On their early singles as The Muslims, the fantastic 'Night Life' (née 'Geez, Geez, Geez') for example, the band showcased an uncanny knack for a hook, eschewing any pomposity for chanted choruses ("ey! ey! ey!") and a simplicity that would put most high school bands to shame. Luckily, the only thing that's changed since then is the name. Remarkably for a band whose stock in trade is such beguiling simplicity, a direct comparison is hard to come by; the nearest allusion possible would be something like Paul Westerberg and Ian MacKaye fronting the Ramones if they'd grown up in Balboa Park rather than Forest Hills.

Matt Lamkin's croaky, slurred drawl of a delivery is the crux on which the group stands, the perfect partner to the band's raucous, ramshackle playing on the likes of album standout, and current single, 'C'mon' and the surging, nihilistic 'Answer To Yourself' ("I think I'm gonna die/before I see my time/think I'm gonna die/try it anyway" Lamkin howls at one point), the centrepiece and most vibrant track on the record. No one's pretending this hasn't been done before. You could name a list of bands longer than the Dischord roster whose stock in trade is a similar Spartan, shuffling reliability. But there aren't many who pull if off with such charm and winningly detached disdain. No matter what the name, it'd be nice to see these boys stick around for a while to come. The Muslims are dead! Long live The Soft Pack!

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