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The Soft Pack - Strapped

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Artist: The Soft Pack

Album: Strapped

Label: Mexican Summer

Review date: Sep. 25, 2012

Remember how good “Extinction” was? In about three minutes The Soft Pack (nee The Muslims) seemed to perfectly articulate the brainy, lazy style of pop that about two million bands seemed to have been grasping at circa 2007. It’s no surprise that the group eventually tried to merge that type of excellence with a type of bigness and sonic ambition that seemed anathema to their humble origins, but through a pretty excellent name change and some stylistic growing pains, they’ve never quite managed to fulfill their potential. Still: I’ve always found myself rooting for The Soft Pack, even as they proved themselves unconcerned with trying to recreate the stripped-down genius of their early material.

The majority of the songs on Strapped lack the immediacy of The Soft Pack’s catchiest (and best) songs, but at the same time, its attempts at grower-type depth on the record are created via shorthand (i.e. saxophone solos). As a result, Strapped sounds conflicted, as if Matt Lamkin, Matty McLoughlin, David Lantzman and Brian Hill weren’t sure whether they wanted to chart new territory or stick with the tried-and-true sounds of their earlier records. There’s something about The Soft Pack, though: Were it by most any other band, a record like this would have earned a solid “fuck off,” but even when too much of their material consists of boring pastiche, they approach it with enough humor and intelligence that I’m willing to keep listening. Even on a song like “Bobby Brown,” which might be best described as The Soft Pack attempting to write a Hall & Oates song, Lamkin’s vocals indicate the appropriate level of seriousness.

When The Soft Pack cool their jets a little and decide to play it straight, the audience’s patience pays off. Strapped is back-loaded with simple, repetitive songs that, in spite of the formal flexing that goes on earlier, remain The Soft Pack’s wheelhouse. “Head On Ice” and “Bound To Fall” could have been torn from a mid-period Lou Reed solo record, if Reed hadn’t spent that part of his career intentionally alienating all of his fans. “Oxford Ave,” while ostensibly just an instrumental interlude, resembles something you might hear on a Gris Gris record and shows what The Soft Pack are capable of when handling the tambourine/horn instrumentation, which is bungled on the album’s wackier songs.

For a band who made their name on straightforward, meat-and-potatoes indie pop, Strapped is all over the place. That quality doesn’t exactly work to The Soft Pack’s advantage, but the record never quite falls into the basement, either. If this sort of formal flailing helps The Soft Pack find their footing down the line, so much the better. If not, though, at least they’re having a good time.

By Joe Bernardi

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