THE SOFT PACK – The Soft Pack (2010)

Few bands stabbed adrenaline into the heart of the punk ethos with more homicidal gusto than The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower. Shakespeare (well, technically Juliet, but whatever) once asked “what’s in a name?” Sometimes, the answer is self-explanatory. It’s kind of remarkable that the band lasted for five years before disbanding, given their propensity for thoroughly abusive live performances. After they disbanded, the members went their separate ways. Some of them wound up in Crocodiles. Bassist Willy Graves, sadly, passed away in September of 2008. And drummer Brian Hill found his way here, to The Soft Pack. And despite the band’s indisputably calmer demeanor, the shift for Hill is surprisingly comprehensible: instead of heralding a manic punk onslaught, he’s simply trying to some get some garage walls to collapse.

Formerly known as the Muslims (the band changed their name because “ignorant and racist” comments being made about them), The Soft Pack’s debut album sounds like a band determined to channel a delicate balance between garage rock, punk and surf rock all at the same time. Given the headstrong nature of these genres, that’s easier said than done, and the band pull it off about as well as could be expected. There’s no question that The Soft Pack’s main priority is to make the audience overload on primitive rock bliss (C’mon, More or Less), but they’re also not afraid to push the tonality of their instruments into uncomfortable realms at times (the stabbing, pre-Moon and Antarctica Modest Mouse guitar twitches in Answer To Yourself, the Crystal Antlers-rivaling organ blizzard in Move Along). Bear in mind that none of this is excessive – indeed, I wish The Soft Pack pushed their songs towards their breaking points more often. That would make The Soft Pack a truly warped record, a living document of a band trying to destroy their songs. The last time I heard a rock band do that over the course of an entire album was …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead in 2002, with Source Tags and Codes. And that was ight years ago.

While talking with a friend of mine about New Jersey punk outfit Titus Andronicus, my friend said that while he enjoyed what the band did, he confessed that sometimes, he wished they’d just “get to the point.” While I can’t say I’ve ever experienced that listening to Titus Andronicus, I see where he’s coming from. There’s something to be said about perfecting the art of instant musical gratification. And while The Soft Pack aren’t quite masters of this trade yet, they sound as though they want to be, and that goes along way. Each song on The Soft Pack sounds as like a band coming to grips with a live or die situation. Once they come to believe that it is life or death, then they’ll be masters. As it stands, however, The Soft Pack aren’t quite there yet – but they’re forging ahead on the path of enlightenment at an alarming rate.

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