When is a blues band not a blues band? When you ask Vancouver duo The Pack a.d. we kill computers follows 2008’s Tintype and Funeral Mixtape, and a 2009 in which Becky Black and Maya Miller played 157 gigs, gaining themselves a reputation for explosive, beer-and-sweat-drenched live performances. The band insist that this third album will prove that their music puts the emphasis less on blues and more on garage-rock. “We are not a blues band, even though people keep putting us there,” says Miller. “We both love the blues, but we are a garage rock blues group.”
The Pack a.d. are also, clearly, a band who want to be believed in. The mystique for which they strive suggests something like Thelma and Louise if their Thunderbird had never hit the bottom of the Grand Canyon, instead landing them in a nameless Southern speakeasy to sing for their supper and smokes. Their attempt to position themselves around the Quatro–Jett–Joplin axis is straightforwardly signposted: from their cartoon rawk-chick uniform of Converse, tattoos and black leather to their choice of Jim Diamond (Detroit Cobras, The Dirtbombs) to polish up we kill computers, what you see with The Pack a.d. is almost exactly what you get.
So, if you’re predicting superior, competent and swaggering garage-rock-by-numbers, full marks. we kill computers displays the standard relentless thudding backbeat from Miller, and, from Black, the regulation huge jagged riffs and a chainsmoked-dry backwoods howl that occasionally smoothes itself silky. Black’s lyrics expand on the album title, rejecting technological modernity in favour of a turn to the natural world, singing of wildlife and wildfires in words often impressionistic or idiot-savant, like the White Stripe sibling Jack and Meg keep locked in the attic.
Musically, most of the songs here do succeed in raising their head above the blues-rock swamp, and other elements bob to the surface in the glam stomp of ‘Crazy’ or the grungy ‘They Know Me’, with its echoes of Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’. ‘The Slow Down’ is a slinky moment of breath-catching, but the standout song here is ‘B.C. Is On Fire’, an anthemic, warm and yearning closing-credits wail over flaring drumbeats that shows what can be done with the garage rock formula when you try.
Unfortunately, too much of the album doesn’t try, remaining content to be competent. However accomplishedly heavy, ballsy and raucous The Pack a.d. sound, there’s still only so much generic garage-rock one can take before the act of listening starts to feel like being repeatedly clouted round the back of the head while dully drunk on homebrew. we kill computers fits perfectly into a pre-existing mould without showing any threat of breaking it, and there isn’t, as yet, enough here to make The Pack a.d. sound memorable rather than just familiar.
[Mint; May 4, 2010]
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