If you aren’t familiar with the Soft Pack, now is
the perfect time to acquaint yourself with this up and coming band.
San Diego natives Matt Lamkin (vocals & guitar), Matty
McLoughlin (guitar), David Lantzman (bass), and Brian Hill (drums)
formed in 2008 as the Muslims. The band quickly ditched that
controversial moniker, compromising with the less threatening
Soft Pack.
They’re self-titled debut dropped in early 2010. Sharp and
economical, it was a perfect storm of 60s Garage Rock, 70s Punk
and 80s College Rock.
The album immediately gained critical acclaim and went
into heavy rotation on L.A.’s tastemaking radio station, KCRW.
By the Spring the band had relocated to Los Angeles and secured
a gig playing Coachella.
Following a couple of years of non-stop touring,
the Soft Pack is back with their sophomore effort, Strapped.
As much as their debut was brisk and concise, their new album
feels expansive, yet subdued.
Strapped kicks things off with the cyclonic “Saratoga.”
Anchored by a twin guitar attack that sound like wailing sirens,
the lyrics detail a bitter tale of romantic betrayal:
“Could you describe what you are doing/ Cause from my side it
seems to me that you are screwin’ everyone all around you..”
“Chinatown” and “Ray’s Mistake” pay homage to
the band’s adoptive hometown, Los Angeles. The former serves up
a potent combo platter of pure power punk and droning psychedelia.
The lyrics literally reference Roman Polanski’s 1974 Film Noir and the
real life events that inspired it (L.A. “stole” their water supply from
the Owens Valley).
The latter is an affectionate shout-out to L.A.’s iconic tropical
nightspot, the Tiki Ti. Roiling surf guitar riffs, watusi rhythms and
twinkly glockenspiel set the sultry mood. “Ray’s Mistake” refers
to an accidental cocktail created by owner Ray Buhen that remains
a mainstay of the menu 50 years later!
Four songs harken back to the dayglo days of 80s New Wave,
(but in a good way). On “Second Look” jangly guitar chords collide with
a honking smoky sax. Kind of R.E.M. meets Romeo Void.
“Bobby Brown” offers a mixed message of tough love,
“When you see a friend run amok, just stand back and wish him luck/
When you see a friend held down, don’t just leave him lyin’ round.”
The instrumentation and arrangement is a jittery mash up that echoes
the soulful groove of Funkadelic and the sophisticated synth pop
of ABC. It’s not really clear if they are addressing former R & B bad boy
Bobby Brown.
“They Say” is a disillusioned take on the music industry
powered by pounding, Tsunami-sized drum fills and stinging, stuttery
guitar riffs.
Finally, “Tall Boy” is quintessential 80s, all
squiggly synths and angular guitars. It’s also pays winking tribute to
Har Mar Superstar’s “Tall Boy” song.
“Everything I Know” and “Head On Ice” provide
a point-counterpoint to love and sex. “Everything…” is
pensive and yearning. A heartfelt love song that recalls vintage
David Bowie and Thin Lizzy. The tune is piloted by jagged guitars
and a steady metronome beat.
“Head On Ice” is a first person narrative from a transvestite
hooker! Here Matt Lankin’s vocals are suitably sepulchral and deadpan.
The melody is accented by whooshing percussion and spikey guitar
Other highlights on Strapped include the burbling
instrumental “Oxford Avenue” and “Bound To Fail.” The latter
recalls the swirly, lo-fi charms of “Loaded” era Velvet Underground.
Although dour Lou Reed was never whimsical enough to string
together jabberwocky couplets like “Accomplices accommodate
with comedy, these comedians have my remedy.”
The Soft Pack pull out all the stops on the closing
track, “Captain Ace.” Jettisoning the vocals two minutes in,
the tune becomes a jangly College rock jam. Combining skronking
guitar breaks, fluttery synths and a wind chime solo! Clocking in
at over six minutes, the band references 80s stalwarts the Meat
Puppets along with more experimental groups like Captain Beefheart
and Frank Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention.
On Soft Pack’s debut, it seemed obvious they revered
80s/90s touchstones like R.E.M., the Fall, Replacements and Pavement.
Strapped expands into less expected territory. Clearly, the
band has been influenced by lesser 80s lights like Guadalcanal Diary,
Hoodoo Gurus, Dream Syndicate and the Violent Femmes.
The Soft Pack is a breath of fresh air, mixing back-to-basics
simplicity with a sharp edge of experimentation. Expect big things
for this band.