Toronto’s PACKS make music that’s like leafing through a diary entry of a time without visible movement, a subtle beauty that appears only when paying close attention. A series of intriguing, lo-fi singles trickled out on Bandcamp, and on the strength of these demos alone the band began sharing stages with artists such as Odetta Hartman. Less a band that is a product of the internet than one whose quiet and acute observations make them impossible to be ignored, the quartet led by Madeline Link has carved out a growing space past the Canadian country lines where their initial demos were born. Written in two different settings, between the city limits of Toronto where Link was living in 2019, and the Ottawa suburbs where she was quarantined with her parents in the spring 2020, both remain complementary emblems of self-reflection and wry observation of the mundanity of daily life.
“The album is a meeting of old and new,” says Link. “Old songs from a year ago where I'm having really horrifyingly awful days at work, getting doored while biking in Toronto and flying into the middle of the street, or going on dates with guys who I'm either instantly in love with, or who end up creeping me out a bit. Those songs are more packed with that feeling of hurtling-through-time-and-space-at-breakneck-speed, manic energy. The newer songs are infused with a foggier, slower-paced disillusionment, and deal with the strangeness of a reality morphing before my eyes every day. I still try to be optimistic obviously, but these songs are really glorified coping mechanisms.”
Initially a solo songwriting project of Link’s that she pursued between gigs as a set dresser for commercials, the band blossomed into a four piece, composed of Shane Hooper (drums), Noah O’Neil (bass), and Dexter Nash (lead guitar). Anchored by Link’s voice, which brings such an easy charm to her songs that it’s easy to miss her keen ear for acrobatic vocal lines, together they turn Link’s melodically adventurous and introspective songs into the purest and brightest kind of indie rock. The band’s debut is a collection of songs that marry the loose but incisive jangle of early Pavement with the barbed sweetness of Sebadoh and the wide-eyed wonder of the first Shins LP will be released in partnership with buzzy Brooklyn label Fire Talk (Dehd, Deeper, Mamalarky), and Toronto mainstays Royal Mountain (Alvvays, Wild Pink, Mac Demarco).
It’s an enchanting record with a transportive quality. The songs communicate Link’s perspective acutely, with details that stand out in their specificity yet feel naturally at ease with melody and a loose charm that make the album feel timeless, like one that could have emerged from any of a number of “golden ages of indie rock.” PACKS’ songs have a way of creeping up on you, and showing new depth with each listen. Be it a subtle harmony, a zig-zagging melodic turn, or Link’s lyrics, which wring a commandeering poetry out of every-day building-blocks as she navigates the growing pains that linger beyond adolescence — finding your bearings after a breakup, feeling directionless, processing loss. “My guts are wrapped in clingfilm / my guts are wrapped up tight / if you’re going to put me in your backpack I will putrefy” goes a particularly arresting lyric on “Clingfilm,” articulately describing in Link’s own incisive language the alienating experience of dating after a break-up Each razor-sharp nugget of wry wisdom depicts own scene of sonic touchstones: on the dreamy “U Can Wish All You Want,” she sings about moving in with her sister and struggling to adjust to living in the city around a neatly subverted butterfly metaphor, where on “Two Hands” she poignantly describes the eeriness of walking around the neighborhood she grew up in after the world has changed around it, while in the same turn referencing the Simpsons.
Recently completing an artist residency in Mexico, Link’s aptitude and enthusiasm for a myriad of multidisciplinary subjects all trickles back to her overarching approach towards the subject matter she ruminates on in her songs. “While in Mexico, I constructed paper maché objects and documented myself destroying them Ialso wrote and presented PowerPoint presentations juxtapos chain of research/ideas togetherwhere there are none.” Call it world-building on a miniature scale: a more apt way to describe it would be a careful collaging, making sense of catastrophic loss and tiny signposts that point to something greater than the sum of its parts.
Throughout the chaos of everyday life, it’s impossible not to feel charmed by Link’s innate understanding of the little things that make the universe tick, and her sonic accompaniments make the simple task of getting from point A to B a journey that lends a little more spring to your step. Most daydreams feel less realistic; in PACKS’ world the two are just what you make it. As society begins to open back up, Take the Cake is a reminder that sometimes a little gentle introspection is all we really need to get by.
Take the Cake is out on May 21st on Fire Talk and Royal Mountain.