PACKS Plant Seeds of Hope in an Apocalypse on 'Take the Cake'
Published May 20, 2021With everything going on these days, nihilism is at an all-time high. Today's young people have endured multiple recessions, the climate crisis and unstable housing markets, and yet are still expected to consume, produce and participate in these systems for little sustainable incentive. PACKS tell these stories well — their songs are littered with ragged bodies and torn-up urban wastelands, overrun by capitalistic tendencies and endless self-doubt. Take the Cake, the Toronto band's debut album, makes the case that, despite everything going on, there's still something worth fighting and hoping for.
Disarming listeners with a palette of sounds that merge laidback rock landscapes with grungy grit, Madeline Link's lyrics are jagged and abrupt, with abstract lines fused together by vividly visceral imagery. Deciphering deeper meanings may prove difficult (particularly as filtered through her languid drawl), but the endlessly listenable, breezy rock tunes encourage plenty of exploration, and any efforts will be handsomely rewarded. Link's words convey Cronenbergian body horror by way of Modest Mouse's suburban alienation. "Hold My Hand" sets a heist movie scene to the sounds of the Inbreds: "Cut my head and lost the money / Backed into a pickup runnin' way / Strewn across the streetcar tracks / Voyeurs drinkin' Laker Ice yell, 'Hey! / You coulda killed that girl!'"
Other moments are more upfront, like the Sonic Youth-like fuzzed-out menace of "Silvertongue" and "Holy Water." Early standout "Clingfilm" finds Link and company firing on all cylinders. The track kicks off like a nursery rhyme post-nuclear apocalypse: "My guts are wrapped in clingfilm, my guts are wrapped up tight / And if you're gonna put me in your backpack, I will putrefy." To hammer it home, Link then snarls, "And that's a promise." She stuffs a whole layer of unsettling ambience in the slight gap between her double-tracked vocals.
Despite the band's self-styled slacker rock description and the thick, permeable fog of exhaustion that lingers throughout the record, it's clear that Link and her band care a great deal, at least enough to fill each song with plenty of nuance and little details. Mewling electric guitars graze playfully across the acoustic guitar-led "Hangman," while piano accents add old-school colour to the materialist musings of "New TV." Link finds ways to be interesting even when describing life's little ubiquities, as on "Two Hands": "Just like a Simpsons sunset, everyone in town says 'Hi.'"
But throughout all the arrangements, Link is more than capable of commanding attention on her own, and she knows it. Understated closer "U Can Wish All U Want" ends the album on a hopeful note, with acoustic guitars and an intimate chorus of multi-tracked background vocals: "Not yet a butterfly / Crawling 'round the neighbourhood / Let's stick together / I don't quite know my way around just yet." Though the world may be approaching uninhabitability, Link and her peers are still driven by a need to learn and grow. Take the Cake seeks out a tiny patch of fertile soil and plants a seed in hopes that it could maybe, hopefully, one day bloom — because there's too much worth experiencing not to try. (Royal Mountain / Fire Talk)