Saturday, April 8, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 991: The Pack A.D.

After two disappointing reviews in a row, I’ve finally broken my losing streak.

Disc 991 is…Funeral Mixtape
Artist: The Pack A.D.

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? Pack A.D. band mates Maya Miller and Becky Black relax in a graveyard, no doubt enjoying the titular funeral mixtape on that ghetto blaster sitting between them. I’ve got a bit of skill myself at making mixtapes, and this cover (and album title) inspires me to make one for my funeral. My funeral mixtape would include Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Stan Rogers’ “Barrett’s Privateer’s” and Crash Test Dummies’ “At My Funeral.” I haven’t thought much beyond those three songs.

How I Came To Know It: Last fall my friend Nick asked if I was interested in going to see the Pack A.D. in concert. I didn’t know who the Pack A.D. were so I checked them out on Youtube and liked what I heard. I mean I really liked what I heard. Over the next three weeks I bought three of their albums. “Funeral Mixtape” was one of them.

You’ll be glad to know this album is available on both compact disc and vinyl. I have no idea if it is available on cassette tape and frankly, I don’t understand the recent fascination with that format. Take it from a guy with some experience in this matter, hipsters: cassette tapes suck.

How It Stacks Up:  I now have four Pack A.D. albums (I picked up the fourth from the merch table at the show in November). Of those four I put “Funeral Mixtape” in at third best. I like it a lot, it is just I like the two in front of it more.

Ratings: 4 stars

“Funeral Mixtape” is from early in the Pack A.D.’s career, but it already shows the band’s brilliance. Their mix of blues riffs and garage rock is well blended and although they are only a duo they make enough sound to wake the dead. So, you know, don’t have them play at a funeral; when people come back that way they come back…wrong.

If you are already living however, this music is a balm for any ennui or listlessness you may be experiencing. Rarely does rock and roll achieve this level of raw energy in the studio. Pack A.D. play with an enthusiasm you’d expect to only feel bouncing around in a mosh pit at one of their concerts (which I don’t recommend unless you are a hardy soul).

These songs have a more stripped down production than later albums that leans more heavily on traditional blues riffs than later records. Despite this, while the music is deferential to what came before, it never feels derivative. They know how to cool it in one portion of a song to let Becky Black’s grimy blues vocal stand out stark and alone, and then in the next bar leap into a furious clash of reverb guitar and high-hat heavy drum beats. Indie music could learn a lot from these women on how to generate restless energy in a clash of sound without losing the melody in the process. This stuff feels raw, but it never loses direction, and that’s important if you want a song and not just a bunch of noise.

Overall I liked the first half of the album slightly more, as it does more of what I’ve just described, whereas the second half is a bit more traditionally blues dressed up in garage rock clothes.

The album features a number of songs about the awkwardness of human communication. “Don’t Have To” is a great song that posits that if people do things you don’t like, then there isn’t some law where you have to pretend to like them. Of course in the real world there are times when compassion and understanding is called for, but this is rock and roll, where we can temporarily shed our social niceties and shout at some folks.

Making Gestures” has Black at her vocal best, sounding like part spoken word poet, part drunk as she rambles away about anxiety and the complexities of communicating with other people. If you need an outlet (and don’t want to actually shout at anyone), these songs are both solid therapy.

“Shiny Things” starts off about watching a bird picking at something that has caught it’s attention, and ends with people rubbernecking a murder in the streets; a reminder that we are all a bit like birds, drawn to the peculiar and the grotesque like a bird to a shiny thing. Like a lot of Pack A.D.’s work, it seems on the surface to just be guitar-driven rock power, but under that layer there are lyrics that are slyly insightful.

While the more straightforward blues numbers are generally the weaker tracks for me, the exception is “Wolves and Werewolves.” Like when Creedence Clearwater Revival or the Rolling Stones does a classic blues cover so well it feels like their own, you can’t help but love it, “Wolves and Werewolves” feels immediately timeless. In fact, the Pack A.D. has a leg up on those rock legends in that they actually wrote the song.

“Funeral Mixtape” leaves little to quibble about, although I will point out that the song “Oh Be Joyful” would be better titled “O Be Joyful.” That is unless the band is just off-handedly reminding us as we go out the door to be joyful, in the same way you might ask someone to pick up a carton of milk while they’re at the store.

When that’s the best quibble you’ve got, though, you’ve got a good album on your hands.

Best tracks: Don’t Have To, Making Gestures, Shiny Things, Oh Be Joyful (sic), Wolves and Werewolves 

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