QUICK SPINS: Against Me!, The Pack A.D., Soft Science
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 11, 2014 7:00PM
Three bands trafficking in music as different as epic punk rock, electric garage rock and dreamy Britpop found their way onto our turntable.
When Against Me! played Riot Fest last fall, the crowd was treated to a preview of a healthy chunk of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which was finally released a few weeks ago. Anyone fearing that Laura Jane Grave was going to take the group in a radically different direction after losing its rhythm section and transitioning off major label life realized that Grace and company were still hellbent on singing songs built in deep emotion and striving towards true rebellion. For this writer hearing "Black Me Out" built to a thundering crescendo across the fields of Humboldt Park made me realize that, if anything, Against Me!'s most vital work was probably still ahead of them.
After listening to the entirety of Transgender Dysphoria Blues over and over again I'm only further convinced that Against Me! has entered a golden age, combining rage with intelligent questioning of the surrounding world to create music that crackles with truth while still reaching for the rafter with some otherworldly punk rock spiritualism. This is easily one of the best albums of the year already, but it's also the best of this band's career thus far.
Against Me! plays April 4 at Durty Nellie's in Palatine, IL.
The world is not wanting when it comes to bands built upon members functioning as a guitar and drum driven duo. But hey, when it works, it works! Done right, two people can pack a pretty massive punch and that's what The Pack A.D. does on Do Not Engage. Then duo of guitarist Becky Black and drummer Maya Miller might hail from Canada but don't let that fool you into thinking their music is polite. They enlisted Detroit producer Jim Diamond to add some grit since their tunes are already conducive to that Motor City garage vibe that area's famous for.
This could be the formula for just another noisy garage rock LP that faded unnoticed into a genre that has grown ever more generic sounding as its influence has grown. Instead Black and Miller keep the songs focused, opting for sharp guitars and thundering yet focused drumming where others might have hidden the songs under piles of reverb and sloppy kit work. Do Not Engage ends up enticing the listener as it opts for solid song structure over "vibe" and this works both for and against The Pack A.D. We appreciate the focus and craft, but things do end up feeling a little stiff at times and while this isn't an unpleasant sensation it does make some of the music feel overlong at only the four minute mark. If you can deal with that, though, you'll dig this album.
The Pack A.D. play March 6 at The Empty Bottle.
Sacramento's Soft Science obviously has an extensive late '80s collection of British indie import tapes and I suspect they played the hell out of it while recording Detour. There's a dreamy quality to the band's music that's rooted more in pre-dawn London streets than sunny California skies. Katie Haley's vocals are sweet but tinged with a sadness that brings a dark glow to even the peppier songs on Detour.
The funny thing about this album is just how "old" it sounds to these ears--one could easily envision the members of Soft Science touring with The Sundays or The Darling Buds or Lush if only they were twenty years older than they are. At the same time while many bands mine this time period for inspiration, few do it in a way that's satisfying beyond mirroring a familiar sound. Soft Science feel more deeply invested, more honest in their approach to find something new in these waters, and that's what keeps Detour from sounding like a simple nostalgia trip. There's something here for older fans of a bygone era and new listeners unfamiliar with that time particular little sub genre of Brit-inflected dream pop.