PACKS Pairs Longing and Loneliness With Pure Joy on Crispy Crunch Nothing

The Toronto/Ottawa-based band explores every aspect of the human experience on sophomore record

Music Reviews PACKS
PACKS Pairs Longing and Loneliness With Pure Joy on Crispy Crunch Nothing

Crispy Crunchy Nothing is a love letter to being alive even with all the nitty gritty details considered. The sophomore album from the Toronto/Ottawa-based band PACKS, out today via Fire Talk, it encapsulates all of the messy, magical, and confusing moments that make up the human condition. Its 14 tracks offer a slice of life that doesn’t shy away from the painful lows or exhilarating highs we all face.

The follow-up to WOAH, their stripped-down EP released over the summer, Crispy Crunchy Nothing sees the quartet returning to the gleaming garage rock that defined their 2021 debut, Take The Cake. At it again with a full band to back her, band leader Madeline Link combines the scruffy sound that put PACKS on the map with country influences, both contemporary and classic, to create an album that sounds like it was made by the kids that would sneak booze into the state fair. Simultaneously incorporating the woozy-whimsy of Alex G and the twang of legends like Hank Williams (who Link would listen to with her dad during lockdown), they cover as much ground sonically as they do emotionally.

In early March 2020, as the rest of the world was reeling from the onset of the pandemic and adjusting to dystopian social-distancing restrictions, Link was grieving the death of her aunt, Lori Tate, who was a victim of a hit and run in Seattle. The traces of this personal loss looms over the album, but so does the resilience and humor Link taps into despite tragedy. Summed up on “Smallest One,” Link finds herself undoing a series of Matryoshka dolls, desperately searching for a conclusion to the constant complications that seem to haunt her at every corner. Preceded by “EC,” a track that references a former co-worker who drowned in the Ottawa River, and “Say My Name,” which features fragile vocals recorded after “many days of crying,” over a long distance love lost it seems like life is just a series of let-downs.

Still, PACKS doesn’t buy into the idea that it’s all doom and gloom. They refuse to fixate on despair, whether it’s the bright guitar licks on “Rag Doll,” or the sun-soaked devotion expressed on “Brown Eyes.” There is a radiant joy that cuts through the sadness, this sense of hope they find in the most unexpected and sometimes mundane moments. These instances emerge out of the blue, like on the fuzzy penultimate track “Laughing Till I Cry” when Link suddenly proclaims, “Sometimes it feels like life is on my side.”

At the heart of Crispy Crunchy Nothing is a starry-eyed adoration for the curveballs life throws at us. On “Fourth of July” Link cooly admits, “And I can’t deny / I have no idea what’s happening right now / No fucking clue what’s going on right now.” While this would set off alarm bells for most, Link takes it one step at a time, noting the cotton candy and shattered dreams, a delicate way of saying that sweetness and disappointment often come hand in hand. They take it all in, refusing to flinch when it gets uncomfortable or cherry-pick the good moments and throw away the rest.

There are these moments of unwavering optimism scattered throughout the album, appearing in the occasional flashes of carefree ecstasy like the playful “lalalala’s” on “Dishwater.” PACKS doesn’t seek out the light at the end of the tunnel, but rather the random places it appears. They revel in the fact that life is full of ups and downs-that’s what makes you appreciate the good times and what gets you through the bad. It can be beautiful and brutal but as Link affirms on “Sunscreen + Epoxy,” “This life is a gift, you better be grateful.”

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