Despite the fact that there’s nothing new under the sun, rock bands will always strive to create new approaches to the old music. I’d at least like to give the benefit of the doubt to most bands, anyway, and say this is true. But since this is a critical review after all, and I am reviewing a band’s music, you can see where these implications might be going.
That’s a bit of a negative way of saying The Soft Pack just aren’t that intriguing. Their name and subsequent name change is actually more interesting. They used to be called The Muslims. The expected ignorant comments about it led to changing it to the slang term for a vanity prosthetic penis. Now we’re getting somewhere.
They might as well have called themselves The Mixed Feelings. These San Diego boys have a lot of fire, no question. But their music couldn’t be any more pigeon-holed post-punk surfer garage rock if they tried. And while there are some cool songs on their eponymous debut album, their real value when held up against the standard for this type of music is unclear, if not poor.
The record starts well, as their best songwriting is at the beginning. Rumbling drums and fuzzy guitars mixed in with layered choruses on “C’Mon”, screeching guitar and a rapid call-and-response melody on “Down On Loving”, and a really catchy, minor-chorded hook on the album’s stand-out single “Answer To Yourself”, all equate good times. It’s easy here to look past the lack of anything astounding since it’s made up for with some killer, mixtape-worthy rock chops. From here out, it gets a little murkier. The songs blur a bit, become less memorable. Then the realization that The Soft Pack is a one-trick pony hits pretty hard, and some of the album’s weaker songs start to feel like poor parodies of others before them. So a little Les Savy Fav here and a little Pavement there and the temptation to give up and “pull out”, as suggested by one of the band’s songs, becomes very real.
Even contemporaries like Surfer Blood, who play a similar style of grunge-lite music, do a better job of consistently changing up their tone and giving the listener something to hope for in the end. What’s wrong with The Soft Pack is ultimately what they did right. They’ve nailed this indie nu-punk sound to the letter, but that’s it. There’s not enough variety to be anything more than that. Put ’em in the ’80s and they’re visionary; today, I’d give ’em a month before some other group replaces them on your iPod Shuffle.