The Pack A.D. consist of two women hailing from Vancouver rife with guitar riffs, snare drums, and crashing cymbals. Their debut release, Tintype, can be easily be categorized as garage rock, but the later portion of the album is spent finding a softer tone. The dualism runs thick: women pushing out testosterone-fueled rock music and innocent piano ballads. The piano compositions bring much needed sweetness to the surrounding tracks’ explosion of guitars, yet this album gets locked into two battling dimensions. This debut succeeds in introducing Becky Black and Maya Miller as talented blues-inspired musicians, yet the overall affect is hazy and slightly drawn-out.
I recently had a conversation with my best friend about female voices in rock. She mentioned how males in the music industry are more likely to get away with having a so-called “bad” voice while women have this standard that their voices need to be trained and beautiful. Granted there have been a library full of singers that get away with non-traditional edge, from Janis Joplin to Karen O and even Joanna Newsom’s unique and atypical vocals. After this discussion, I re-listened to Tintype and approached it with a slightly different perspective. Becky Black’s voice, reminiscent of a smoky dive bar where a conversation consists of screaming at the person next to you, has an unapologetic harshness. With my first listen, I found her voice’s aggressiveness off-putting. But it is hers and hers alone. With her raw vocals, Black gives the Pack A.D. something that distinguishes them from the rest of female rock bands. It may not be for every ear, but Black’s sounds are ballsy and unapologetic.
This garage rock approach is relentless and after urging the 17 tracks through the album, the record tends to get lost in its own attitude. There are some great tracks, but the songs fall victim to hitting two notes and two notes only. The opening track is a great choice to literally jump-start the record. “Gold Rush” swells with a creeping melody line and Black’s voice intrigues, running from soft purrs to emotional wails. It helps to launch this leathery whiskey-drowned vibe and, while the album maintains this note, they allow themselves to take a breather with “Bang”. The percussion may explode with volume, but her voice stays low and the contrast is much appreciated. When she sings, “I love it when you cry … I can’t help it I’m sick that way”, I actually believe her and when she’s not screaming, she allows herself to be subtle and arresting.
There could be an interesting element of masculine vs. feminine on this album. It’s two women going against “chick-rock” stereotypes by pushing out heavy tracks, yet they still allow the fem to come out and take their time with softer shades. It would be an appealing dynamic; however, the album needed a few tracks to get the chop, and smoother transitions to fully showcase the Pack A.D.‘s talents. Certain tracks hit so hard that the ensuing ballad comes across more like they are heaving and needed something simple so they could catch their breath. Tintype hits the highs and lows well, but there isn’t any mood in between the extremes and leaves no room for surprise.