Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Leaders of the pack

Vancouver duo ditches the blues, discovers choruses

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TORONTO -- Vancouver garage-rock duo the Pack A.D. finally cleaved its way onto Canadian airwaves with 2011's Unpersons, a record that strayed far from the skeletal hard blues that marked their early work.

With Do Not Engage -- out Jan. 7 -- the band is pushing its newfound tunefulness even further, and the duo is blunt when asked to describe the shift in sound.

"Now our songs have things like choruses," says drummer Maya Miller during a recent chat in Toronto. "Like, they never used to. Truthfully, they do have more melodies now."

Shedding their nascent primal-blues leanings almost completely, the Pack A.D. here channel the melodic fuzz of 1990s post-grunge and lo-fi for a concise set of 11 songs that recall a range of influences, including the Breeders, the Grifters and Superchunk.

There's still variety within that framework -- "there's no real consistency, but I kind of like that," singer Becky Black muses -- but the common thread is a new accessibility.

That popcraft arrived at a fortuitous time for the band, seemingly perched on the cusp of a breakthrough. Since Unpersons came out, they became Juno Award nominees (for breakthrough group), signed with Nettwerk Records (such a sufficiently large label that Black marvels "there's a lot more people to remember") and whisked their undomesticated live show across some larger stages, including a gig last month opening for the Arctic Monkeys.

Miller and Black acknowledge that a desire to capitalize on such opportunities did influence their songwriting.

"I think it obviously played a part in coming up with this album," Miller says.

"I also think people now can dance to our new album. I think it's been harder to dance to our music in the past. We used to have less opportunity for that. It was very odd music. It didn't really go anywhere, so maybe it's going somewhere."

If it sounds as though the pair is unhappy with their earliest work -- 2008's Tintype and Funeral Mixtape -- well, that's pretty accurate.

Those elemental recordings helped the duo gather a following, but they're not representative of where the group is at now.

"For me, I tried to think we didn't do those first two albums; not in a really bad way, but it just feels like I don't even understand what we were doing then," Miller says.

"I guess you have to look at it positively though," Black interjects. "The only reason the albums are better now is because they were bad in the beginning."

"Except not everybody decides to put their bad stuff out there for people and go: 'Hey, why don't you buy our bad stuff?"' Miller retorts with a laugh.

Eventually, Black comes around to her bandmate's way of thinking.

"It kind of makes sense why bands release EPs first and not 17-song albums," she says, referring to their debut. "We were so foolish. Seventeen songs. 'Let's put as many as we can on this thing."'

Still, it was that dissatisfaction with corners of the band's catalogue that pushed them to where they are now, they conclude.

"There's nowhere to move with happiness. I think it's a terrible place to be. It's complacency. You do not grow from being happy," Miller says.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 C6

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