California garage-rock band the Soft Pack is growing up. With its second album, Strapped (third if you count its first record under the moniker the Muslims), the band upholds its cut-and-run rock attitude, with nine out of the 12 songs on the album spanning less than three minutes. But there is a greater variety of instruments here—a saxophone, synthesizers—that shows that the band is branching out and trying to build beyond its snotty, jangly, punk-addled blasts of sound.
Strapped opens with “Saratoga,” a good introduction to the band’s new style. Consisting of a fast bassline, upbeat tempo, hazy vocals and a distorted guitar strum, this song doesn’t initially stray from the Soft Pack’s previously established taste for garage rock. But as the track progresses, “Saratoga” begins to reveal its California sunshine sounds, saturated in jangle-pop guitar riffs. This new dimension carries over to “Second Look” and “They Say,” giving the songs a brighter texture not found on the self-titled album or The Muslims.
When the Soft Pack first started recording music, the band pledged to only play simple and straightforward rock. On Strapped, this dedication to simplicity no longer appears on the band’s priority list. As guitarist Matty McLoughlin explains in an interview, “We wanted to make the album more sonically diverse and rich. The last one we tried to capture what the band sounded like live at the time…We felt we needed to sound more interesting.” Tracks like the jazz-infused “Bobby Brown” and instrumental “Oxford Ave.” stand out on the album for their baritone sax solos and heavy incorporation of synthesizers, exemplifying the Soft Pack’s attempt to incorporate sounds that push the boundaries of its comfort zone.
Hearing the new album sort of makes you feel like a parent sending your child off to college: You feel a little sad watching the band leave behind its punky, youthful, carefree days. But these varied sounds signal a growth in the band, one that will ultimately save the Soft Pack from forever being stuck playing angsty teen music.