I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not typically a fan of rock duos. I’m usually the cynic who thinks “why can’t they just get a bass player?” And I usually find their sound, especially their live sound, to be missing something significant. Two months ago when I saw The Pack A.D. open for Alice In Chains, I was shown that I could be proven wrong. Only putting about half of my attention to the stage (though my full attention was to the music) it took me about three songs to realize that there were only two members on stage; guitarist/vocalist Becky Black and drummer Maya Miller. Their sound was so full and loud live that the absence of a third member didn’t seem to cross my mind.
There have been a few independent duos whose music I enjoy, but it’s easy to record an album as a duo and make the sound as full as you want, it’s another to make your live shows sound be the powerhouse sound that The Pack A.D. have. I can only think of one band – Indian Handcrafts – who have made the same impact on my taste.
To no surprise, The Pack A.D.‘s most recent album Do Not Engage doesn’t disappoint in the sound category. Opening track Airborne is what I expected after watching them play, the drums play a big part in the song as they are the main thing keeping the rhythm and the guitar/vocal work of Becky Black doesn’t sound out of place. It’s the second track Big Shot where I was really caught, all it really took was the simple two note riff that starts off the song makes the melody more than just chords and vocals and its punk roots round off what should be recognized as one of the album’s best.
The Pack A.D. turn up the intensity a bit with Animal. There is a bit of an angry attitude to the song, not just in the vocals, but the intensity with how the guitar is played. The added guitar effects make for an interesting listen. Battering Ram has a similar attitude to it, while providing a very different melody. Both songs provide two of the most memorable choruses on the album making them two immediate highlights for listeners.
There is a bit of a roadhouse rock sound to songs like Creepin’ Jenny and Stalking Is Normal. They have this old time serious, yet fun, sound to their music, with a definite modern alternative influence, keeping the album as diverse as possible. The Water has similarities to other duos I can think of. Mostly in the fuzzy sound of the guitar being played. Most duos require a louder, typically fuzzy, guitar sound to provide more tone to fill out the speakers a little more. The Water has just that, as well as some of the wildest played drums on the album.
I love The Pack A.D.’s use of melodies in their slower songs, and Loser is the prime example of why. The guitar riff is so simple, yet you don’t notice, because it just works so well. The song picks up, but even after it picks up it’s still a slower and less intense track that pretty much any other track heard up to this point on Do Not Engage.
The last two rockers on the album are The Flight and Rocket. The Flight is the main song where the drums stand out. To make for a more full sound, the drums on the album have been primarily Maya pounding on the toms, while adding in the crash cymbal to add more intensity, but for The Flight, Maya went back to basics, using the hi-hat and snare, yet somehow it just stands out better than any other drum track on the album. Rocket isn’t necessarily one of the harder songs on the album but it is up there with the most catchy songs on Do Not Engage thanks to its chorus.
Do Not Engage ends with one more slow song. This time the song, Needles, is slow all the way through, just featuring Becky singing with her guitar. I enjoy this song’s lyrics and its feel. I like it as the album closer as well, just in how it puts the album in perspective, kind of like it says “we rocked your socks off, now here’s a slow one to listen to while you recover.”
There are no tricks to Do Not Engage, what we hear on every song is what we’d hear in their live performances; drums, guitars and vocals. That makes for one hell of an organic sound that I wish more bands had. I tend to forget when listening to them that they are a duo. I mean I remember, but the fact stopped bothering me after my first listen to the album. I was surprised how many people told me they knew of The Pack A.D. after I posted a picture of me meeting them, but now I feel more people should know them, and I look forward to watching them continue to grow as musicians.
“Rocket” – After seeing The Pack A.D. live, there was one song out of their great set that completely stuck in my memory. I’m ashamed to admit that rarely happens when seeing opening acts, but that also told me that this song was something special, and I hoped it was on Do Not Engage as that was the one album out of the five The Pack A.D. albums I bought. Thankfully, that song is on the album, and it is Rocket. Needless to say it’s my favourite song from Do Not Engage, but it is also the highlight due to its catchiness and its ability to capture the band’s sound so well all in one song.
8 (Out of 10)
2. “Big Shot”
4. “Creepin’ Jenny”
5. “Battering Ram”
6. “The Water”
7. “Stalking is Normal”
9. “The Flight”