Talk about missing your moment. This debut album proper from San Diego’s The Soft Pack (formerly known, somewhat misguidedly, as The Muslims) feels like it’s missed the boat by about 10 months, what with a whole new bunch of hyped bands occupying the column inches.
Back when they went under their old moniker – changed because of “ignorant and racist comments” – this four piece generated a groundswell of buzz with their urgent, lo-fi take on guitar pop, as shown on a handful of EPs. Since then, the buzz has faded, and this album arrives to a halfhearted chorus of shrugs.
Unfair? It’s deserved. It’s an odd album in that every track is catchy and well constructed, with hints of The Strokes here and early Velvet Underground there, and yet it’s hard to really work up much of a sweat about the songs or the band themselves. From the shiny, eager-to-please opener, C’mon – which seems to be about the idea of finding the next big thing – to the scratchy rock of early single Parasites, The Soft Pack ambles along like an excited puppy, tripping and stumbling but always eager to please.
There are moments where things rise above the level of ‘alright’ and touch on ‘great’, even. Answer To Yourself marries a brilliant baseline with a stomping drum beat as singer Matt Lamkin’s weedy vocal wraps itself round a rousing tale of living life to the full. The spiteful More Or Less is the real highlight, with Lamkin deadpanning a chorus of “You want more than anyone else / Yet you have more than anyone else…You give less than anyone around”, as the spidery, tightly wound guitar lines weave in and out.
They also slow things down on the Walkmen-esque Mexico, proving that they perhaps should have taken more risks with an album that has a tendency to blur into one indistinguishable mass. It’s the only moment where you stop and try and listen to the lyrics or feel any kind of connection with what’s being said. It also has a killer guitar solo, which at least shows they have a sense of humour.
It’s hard to suppress the feeling that perhaps The Soft Pack made their name early on because of their former name. It’s difficult to tell on the basis of this album what all the fuss was about. It’s not a bad album, it’s not a good album, it’s merely an alright album and that’s the real problem. They know their way around a melody and there are fleeting moments of magic, but The Soft Pack are more flat-pack; they serve a purpose but they’re dispensable and workmanlike.