After two years away, The Pack A.D. (otherwise known as the powerhouse duo of Maya Miller and Becky Black) are back with Positive Thinking, fueled by a vengeance. Befitting that, their songs oppose the whimsy of the album’s cover art. Miller and Black have augmented the blues of their roots and traveled in a punk and garage direction, inching into more raw territory with each subsequent release. On this newest album, The Pack A.D. have transcended their original sound fully, presenting a polished effort that doesn’t lack in memorable hooks or gritty spirit.
Right from the start, punk runs at the very core of Positive Thinking. Opener “So What” brings a gritty eye-roll to both the sonics and lyrics: “Tell me you like me/ I like you too/ So what.” But to counteract this brash confidence, Miller and Black add a dose of equally raw vulnerability. This juxtaposition works for the duo, a formula that runs through the history of punk-fueled rock. The frenetic blends with the languid, the heavy rock riffs cascade into syrupy melodies.
A strong Southern blues influence permeated The Pack A.D.’s earliest works, yet it has been gradually left behind in favor of expanded techniques and other genre touchstones. That said, twinges of the blues remain peppered throughout Positive Thinking. “Yes I Know” is shrouded in darkness and opens with a mesmerizing, pulsating beat, and the closest the record gets to their blues influences. “Beat my heart like a drum/ Battle stations go,” they sing, but manage to rise above the hollow clichés via pounding drums, clanging cymbals, and subtle riffs.
But rather than slinky blues jams, the punk rock standouts are punctuated by a crop of softer rock tunes. “Anyway” discusses relationships with perfect candor, while “Sorrow” eschews the fuzz for a mellow vibe. Miller’s light percussion complements Black’s stellar vocals, expertly representing a universal sense of melancholy. “One step forward/ Two steps back again,” Black echoes with purpose.
Tracks like “Teenage Crime” and “Error” tend to fade into the backdrop, but are merely forgettable rather than resulting in a net negative. The standout tracks, comparatively, shine even brighter, “Fair Enough” brightest among them. First, a droning guitar line, followed by the pitter-patter of percussion. The instrumentals are engaging enough, but then the vocals cascade in, building to a wailing frenzy and then cycling back to that same guitar line. It’s often difficult to believe this band is composed of only two people, the wall of sound layered tall with such ease.
Ironically, the songs of Positive Thinking often work in opposition to the album title. Darkness, despair, and Southern gothic sounds flood the record, occasionally verging on the melodramatic. Yet, the whole thing is tied together sleekly, recalling The Runaways, Sleater-Kinney, and the Kills — in essence, though decidedly not as strong as any of those. With Positive Thinking, The Pack A.D. outdo their past, the new facets and layers revealing themselves further with each listen.
Essential Tracks: “Fair Enough”, “So What”