Los Angeles-based foursome The Soft Pack – who advisedly changed their name from The Muslims when they started out – were championed by some as the new Strokes when they released their self-titled debut album back in 2010. However, while the album was critically well-received, the band’s slick and effortlessly cool pop-rock did not exactly cause the same ripples of excitement in the indie world as the classic Is This It did back in 2001.
Rather than rush out the follow up to their debut album, the four-piece took two years to record 30 songs for their latest effort, entitled Strapped, before choosing their 12 favourites. Not only was the process more thorough, but The Soft Pack also decided to go it alone and self-produce their sophomore album. Consequently, Strapped builds on the foundations of the band’s debut – nine of the songs fall short of the three minute barrier – while also trying out a few new ideas.
Yet when it comes down to it, very little has changed second time around for the four-piece. The fuzzy burst of thrilling guitars on album opener Saratoga lays down a statement of intent, as Matt Lamkin’s nonchalant vocals glide in over the top. But the intent appears to be a conscious decision to repeat the same formula that served them well on their debut – with the occasional addition of synths. Second Look is further evidence of the band’s unwillingness to stray too far from the sound of their first record, with a thumping beat and driving guitars giving it an air of predictability.
The first real flurry of synths arrive on the funky Bobby Brown and while it does show an evolution of sorts from anything the band have done previously – it’s not a particularly startling change of direction. The song features stop-start guitars and groovy synths, while the lyrics could have been written by a child: “When you see a friend act a fool/ send your friend right back to school/ if you wish he’d rise above/ in the ways of love.” It’s not terrible – in fact, it’s quite fun and harmless – but the song hardly screams ingenuity.
Unsurprisingly, The Soft Pack are at their best on Strapped when they revert to the punchy riffs and catchy choruses of their debut. Chinatown revolves around thrashing guitars and a big chorus, as Lamkin sings: “You will find me in the dark/ under the willow trees and sparks,” while They Say would have slotted perfectly in with the band’s first LP. But as the album moves quickly towards its conclusion, the songs start to show a bit more adventure – only a bit, though. Head On Ice verges on the dark, psychedelic sound of The Horrors, before six-minute plus Captain Ace closes the album with a confident swagger.
Everything about the build up to The Soft Pack’s second album suggested the foursome would take more risks and deliver on the potential that many believed was there from the start. Like their self-titled debut, Strapped is a perfectly enjoyable record and is well executed throughout. But considering the band worked for two years on Strapped and had around 30 songs to choose from, it’s hard not to wonder whether the tracks that didn’t make it were any better. Unfortunately, there is just nothing remarkable or overly memorable on Strapped. Instead, it is a straightforward and solid return from a band who sound unsure whether to stick or twist.