This article was originally published in Five Cent Sound, March 2013.
The Pack A.D. fails to impress with their fifth studio album.
Becky Black and Maya Miller embody the perfect underground punk girl group. Miller hits you in the stomach with her reckless, abandoned drumming skills and Black doubles as guitarist and brash vocalist. The Canadian duo breezed through the release of their previous four studio albums but hiccupped with Do Not Engage, released late January.
Engage gallops into “Airborne,” the opening number, with an off-kilter drumbeat and falls into an easy, dreamy tune. It’s decent to say the least, but not a fantastic hook for a garage rock band. Harder guitar riffs don’t rear their head until the third track, “Animal,” and even then, Black’s vocals are not up to par with The Pack’s 2011 release, Unpersons. Throughout Unpersons, Black remains unpredictable and uncontainable but Engage just sounds dull.
The same attitude-laced lyrics from Unpersons exist in Engage, but there’s just something different—a lack of emotion perhaps. The first half of the album lacks the energy and enthusiasm that the second half delivers. However, Black consistently throws her cares to the wind, fitting snugly with her indifferent vocal appearance, considering you can hear flat notes and grungy voice cracks that were not edited out. But still, the songs sound tired and repetitive, as though they ran out of ideas but kept writing songs.
“Stalking is Normal” is a worthy track purely for its dynamic. After six songs of what sounds like the same drum pattern and lyrical monotony, “Stalking” offers an exciting drum introduction as well as echoes, pitch changes, and stop-starts. If you listen closely, the lyrics present a comical stalker situation and Black’s wavering dryness makes it even funnier.
Following “Stalking is Normal” is the first somewhat toned down tune of Engage: “Loser.” The introspective “Loser” resonates with introspective lyrics but still sounds quirky and a tad sad. But it also follows the course of human emotion, in terms of the musical structure, with lyrics such as “I’m alone because I chose to be/ so when I’m lonely I have nobody to blame but me/ I do it to myself/ I do it to myself.”
The Pack did include a slow jam, “Needles,” oddly placed at the end of the album. It would’ve made more of an impact as an intermission, with its acoustic lullaby qualities. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful melody with an ironic finish—the track abruptly ends as Black sings, “And when I feel like this I wish I wish I/could shut it off.”
With some rearrangement and less repetition, this album could’ve ripped you apart. But Unpersons produced such fantastically unhinged tunes it’s hard not to expect the same from their new release. Standing alone, Engage is a decent rock album. But in comparison with their 2008 release Funeral Mixtape or Unpersons, it sounds monotonous and a little boring. If you want the feel of rock wriggling through your veins, work your way backwards through their discography, it’ll be a more exciting trip.