Strapped is an album largely compromised of past demos that stand as strong songs on their own, but suffer from zig zag tracklisting. The Soft Pack seem undecided on whether or not to risk alienating their fans by completely abandoning their previous sound or to fully embrace their newer ventures.
While it is refreshing to see a band challenge themselves, Strapped gets tangled in its own web of influences. “Saratoga” has the speed of their days as The Muslims but carries a more upbeat summer haze that contrasts lyrics like “Do you remember anything I’ve said?/Why does it instantly shoot right through your head?”. “Tallboy” is a decidedly different take than Har Mar Superstar’s song of the same name (though they are friends) that uses keyboard horns and a bass heavy organ to tap into early 80s Rolling Stones experimentation.
“Bobby Brown” is definitely the biggest departure from their debut. It combines an interesting array of keyboard synth, sax solos and a slow funk bass. “Chinatown” is singer Matt Lamkin’s nod to Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic about water rights in Los Angeles. Lamkin sings “Well I don’t know where I don’t know how/but this place could use a change right now” while Brian Hill taps into speed drumming nirvana for just under three minutes. Strapped’s shortest song “Oxford Ave.” is a blazing funk instrumental spitting out skronky sax riffs and an array of abstract effects in the form of 70s Miles Davis. Lamkin is best when he asserts his vocal presence on dark tracks like “Head on Ice”, a snarling fuzz fest about dirty deeds done dirt cheap. “Bound to Fall” is a nice transition with similarly brooding themes before dropping into the nearly seven minute closer “Captain Ace”. The final track is probably telling of the band’s future progression as it combines the most experimental jazz and funk elements of earlier tracks with straightforward jangly college rock riffs for a mixture that gets close to the heaviness of bands like Tame Impala.
It’s a strange thing how hype in the music industry works. Three years ago these guys were hailed as the new Strokes by NME while Mojo praised them for their Nuggets worthy 60s anthems. Strapped might be The Soft Pack’s rebuttal to the rampant genre lumping that sees their Spotify related artists list include Jay Reatard and the Black Lips. They’ve certainly distanced themselves from traditional four-man band structures, incorporating a flurry of saxophone, synth and computer horn arrangements on an album that skips genres like stones in a pond.
Words: Brian Noonan