Singer/guitarist Becky Black and drummer Maya Miller of Canadian duo the Pack A.D. manage to, uh, pack a lot of meaning into the title of their fourth full-length, Unpersons. In the broadest sense, they subsume their identities for the great glory of being in a kickass band, and in the process place themselves in the pantheon of messy garage punk ‘n’ blues ‘n’ roll: White Stripes, Black Keys, Kills, Black Diamond Heavies, Dead Weather, Cheater Slicks, to say nothing of ten thousand other bands. It should be noted that the Pack A.D. seem to reject the Stripes comparison, but the duo format and Black’s uncanny ability to mimic Jack White’s distinctive yowl and knack for theatricality means a Stripes reference is unavoidable in a Pack A.D. review. More specifically, though, Unpersons addresses monsters—both literal and that other, unrecognizable thing you and/or your significant other turns into when a relationship goes sour.
“I died… I’ll haunt you,” promises/threatens Black to an ex who has moved on on the spooky “Haunt You”—the first of many monsters who fill Unpersons’ 42-minute run time. Black wails like a banshee on “Lights” when she’s not hissing the song’s title over and over through bared fangs. Some sort of “ancient evil” is conjured up in “Cardinal Rule”. The messiness of a broken human body fuels “Body Parts” (“You’re such a freak / Go get a coat and cover yourself up”), but then the band turns a 180 and swaps the meatbag talk to sing about robots on “Positronic”. The Pack A.D. aren’t in it for Cramps/E.C. Comics-style ghoulishness. If anything, it’s the aural equivalent of Cronenbergian body horror where the anguish of relationships-gone-wrong (or, in the case of “Positronic”, the denial of such feelings) manifests itself in horrific, dehumanizing ways.
Just to drive the point home, the band drops the metaphors every now and again and directly addresses the titular issue. On the blazing kiss-off “Rid of Me”, Black notes “I can get a new hairdo and a new attitude, but you’re still you”, while on “Seasick”, “Rid of Me”‘s emotional flipside, there’s more defiance, if not exactly a recognition that it takes two to tango: “I won’t be the one to clean this mess up when you’re gone.” So yeah, things are messy in the Pack A.D.‘s world, but there is hope: as offered in the closing “Hear Me Out”, the key to rehumanizing is, ya know, actually listening to the other person.
Fortunately, in Black and Miller’s capable, eager-to-rock, hands, Unpersons isn’t a didactic scold/bitchfest; in fact, it’s a helluva footstomper. Black knows the canon cold, and what Miller might lack in technical proficiency she more than makes up for in exuberance. Produced by garage guru Jim Diamond (who also twiddled the knobs for 2010’s We Kill Computers), and reveling in the freedoms and limitations brought about by the guitar ‘n’ drums duo framework, Unpersons is stripped-down, high-dudgeon garage from two pissed-off gals trying to hold onto a shred of their humanity in 21st-century America.
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