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The Soft Pack: The Soft Pack, in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: The Soft Pack
Title: The Soft Pack
Release date: February 2, 2010
Label: Kemado

Over the course the past five weeks of doing "Nothing Not New," I've run across a few records that I've liked -- but liked mostly in relation to everything else I'd heard up to that point. In other words, the letter grades you see at the end of every "Nothing Not New" post is the result of my grading on a curve based on what I've heard in 2010. 

If I were to grade each new record in relation to the records in my collection (which obviously mostly consists of records I really, really like), I'm pretty sure the list you see below, in the "NNN" archives, would actually be littered with grades you wouldn't want to take home to Mom. And then I would come across as just a cranky asshole who doesn't like any new music and, thereby, ruin this fledgling project.

For instance, based on what I've heard in 2010, I really like that Los Campesinos! record. I gave it an A-. Does it stand up to beloved records in my collection by similar bands like The Rezillos or The Mekons? No. 

But isn't that how we all assess the new music we hear? We compare it to the music that we can't live without and then rank it (and, therefore, subconsciously evaluate its necessity) in our collection in relation to our favorites. It's a key symptom of "aesthetic atrophy." And it's happening to all of you with each new record you listen to. When you're 24, it's easier to be open-minded and absorb tons of new music and wantonly build up your record collection and, generally, "like everything." But with each new record you hear, you're actually setting yourself up to be pickier and pickier as you get older.

So, point being, I'm not sure any of the records (save for one, maybe two) I've heard so far truly make the grade as something that will have a home in my record collection for years to come. Until today.

The new self-titled debut by the San Diego band The Soft Pack is the first record I've heard this year that instantly fits in my collection. I don't know if I will be listening to it when I'm 50, but I can't see a reason why I won't be listening to it a lot for the foreseeable future.

If you liked Surfer Blood's Astro Coast (which I generally liked), there's a chance you'd dig Soft Pack: shambolic performances, rough-around-the-edges production, unpolished melodicism, a vocalist whose convincing voice makes up for his work-in-progress singing talents, jangly and dirty guitars that fight for your attention, and a great, hard-rocking rhythm section. In fact, musically it bears some resemblance to circa-1984 R.E.M., though with more edge and power.

Another thing I really like about the new Soft Pack record is its timeless sound. It sounds as if it could've been released within a month of The Dream Syndicate's 1982 classic The Days of Wine and Roses or 25 years later, along with fellow San Diegans Hot Snakes' Audit in Progress. I hear the influence of both bands (as well as The Feelies and Eddy Current Suppression Ring) a lot in Soft Pack, especially The Dream Syndicate's melodic sense and punk spirit.

As I do with Chicago's The Mannequin Men, I view The Soft Pack as a band that is putting out cool records right now but whose best is definitely yet to come.   

Best song: "C'Mon" is the obvious "hit" here.
Rotation: Heavy
Deja Vu: The Replacements' Let It Be
I'd rather listen to: Eddy Current Suppression Ring's Primary Colours, my favorite record of the past few years
Grade: A

The "Nothing Not New" Archives

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett