The Pack A.D. have had one of the most underappreciated careers in Canadian music. For a decade, the duo of Becky Black (guitar/vocals) and Maya Miller (drums/vocals) have been traversing the country’s ten provinces and three territories. From big festivals to the most ragged dive bar, they’ve brought their electrifying garage-rock to the people. It all started with 2006’s Tintype and 2008’s Funeral Mixtape. The Vancouver band reached their peak in 2010 and 2011 with We Kill Computers and Unpersons, which were heavy, gritty, and menacing in their approach.
Their last two albums, Do Not Engage and Positive Thinking, were their most polished of their careers and, as such, more accessible. While there were some gems in the two records, the attitude and bite in their music that made them cult favorites were missing. On album number seven, Dollhouse, The Pack A.D. return to their roots and deliver their best effort in six years. It is also their most diverse output to date.
The bookends provide the perfect encapsulation of what the record possesses and its introspective tone. Opener, “Woke Up Weird”, is a dark, throbbing anthem that recalls the gritty garage-rock of the early 2000s. Black’s vocals are enrapturing, and her lyrics of being strange and unusual set the tone for the entire record. The closer, “I Tried”, reveals a different side to the duo, who showcase a bluesy side a la Buddy Guy. This tender ballad builds on “Woke Up Weird” with its story of struggling to get through each day and the competition that exists within today’s society.
“I’ll explain why I left the race.
Medicated slow and steady.
Waiting but never rang,
I run hard to finish in last place.”
Much of the race revolves around “$”, a rip-roaring affair that is among the duo’s best songs musically and lyrically. Miller’s drumming is fierce while Black’s guitar blazes a trail of delirious reverb, and the two sing about people’s addiction with money. The song perfect leads into “Dollhouse”. As the scuzzy guitar riff filters across the song, Black methodically describes a life stuck in neutral and isolated from the realities of the world.
The ’80s-inspired, power-rocker, “Thomas Hardy”, brings to life some of the renowned English author’s works to life. Love, honor, and betrayal are told, not to mention Hardy’s frequented theme of undying love. The Pack A.D unleash a familiar number in “Not Alright”, but only with respect to its sizzling, garage-rock composition. Black, though, takes us deep inside her mind, and she reveals to us her own personal instability. “If life could be a picture perfect postcard”, she laments about the possibility of being all right.
The blues approach heard on “I Tried” reveals itself once again on “Because of You”. It, too, is something different from the duo, as they offer a sultry and sizzling number. This song belongs in a smokey jazz bar or on the next season of True Detective. From lust to the total chaos of a relationship within a crashing world, The Pack A.D. dive into the dark soul of an obsessed individual on “Does It Feel Good”. The song further represents another side of the band, who for six albums relied upon their intense instrumentation to blow listeners away. This time, they slow things down a bit, rev up the reverb, and heighten the drama.
Musically, Becky Black and Maya Miller aren’t reinventing the landscape, but they are moving their own personal goalposts in other ways. Specifically, they’re not here just to rock our worlds, but they are making us reflect on our behaviors and our sanity. In addition, they extending themselves to new, unexpected territories, where once upon a time we knew The Pack A.D. just as a garage rock band. With Dollhouse, we see them evolve into a diverse duo that can blow the walls off the biggest dive bar while enchanting the regulars at the finest jazz bars in the country.
The Pack A.D. are heading out on a cross-Canada tour at this moment. Dates and information are available here.
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