PACKS, “Crispy Crunchy Nothing”

Madeline Link finds hope in unlikely places on her warm, cranked-up second full-length.

PACKS, Crispy Crunchy Nothing

Madeline Link finds hope in unlikely places on her warm, cranked-up second full-length.

Words: Hayden Merrick

April 03, 2023

Crispy Crunchy Nothing

Madeline Link has a way of making you feel that everything is going to be OK. Even when she’s singing of having “no fucking clue what’s going on right now,” it’s with an easy drawl suited to idling in the grass, musing on mildly interesting cloud shapes; it’s with a musical accompaniment akin to a low-stress, lo-fi garage rehearsal. “There’s something very warm about lo-fi,” the PACKS leader told NME. “I like to leave hi-fi to those who like to spend lots of money on expensive recording stuff and are really perfectionists.” This endorsement of imperfection defined last year’s solo EP WOAH, which retained the ding of iPhone notifications and bum notes from Link’s close-mic’d acoustic guitar. The songs sound lived-in and personal—like a private living room performance. 

Crispy Crunchy Nothing—Link’s description of biting into a rotten apple—is hardly more labored over, but cranks the volume up. Link’s “fat chords,” as she dubs them, are complemented by her team of collaborators: Dexter Nash’s twangy leads and the occasional wacky effect; bass lines from Noah O’Neil which cleverly undercut the rustic guitar strums; and Shane Hooper’s loose, unfussy drumming. The four holed up in a cabin in rural Quebec to record the album, and the cabin’s sauna moonlighted as a recording booth. Such a relaxed environment is evident in the album’s, well, warm tones and playful dynamics. Lead single “Abalone” slumps along with an intoxicating, red-hot languor, while “Brown Eyes” is a rush of tongue-in-cheek lovesickness that votes to “spend all day at the beach.” Showcasing Link at her most literary and gentle, “EC” is a golden-hour stroll after a long day of recording, with country licks and lyrics eulogizing a deceased co-worker.  

Indeed, running alongside the cabin-hang vibe is a muddy river of grief and disillusionment. “4th of July” is emblematic of Link’s dry-wit approach—she is Canadian—and is a smart analogy for her feelings of detachment. “Dead or alive, shoulders hurt to cry on / Comfort me with stacks of money,” she intones, and it’s not difficult to picture her sulking on the pier as fireworks fizz in the distance and happy families parade past, contrasting her “shattered dreams” and “dying taste buds” with their cotton candy smiles. 

Some of the songs on Crispy wrap before they make it to the second chorus. It’s as though the band dedicates only a few hours to each idea. Not through laziness; rather, they deliberately lay the song to rest before it becomes overwrought. The minute-long “Say My Name,” for example, follows a linear A/B structure, its sleepy lullaby intro subtly transitioning into grunge-fuzz gloom. Tracks such as “Smallest One” and “Late to the Festivities” exemplify the inventive chord progressions that Link packs into these concise compositions: borrowing from other keys, taking unexpected detours, and exploring harmonic tension in a way that’s atypical of alt-country music. 

On its surface, Crispy Crunchy Nothing might resemble a summer bummer soundtrack a few months ahead of schedule. But there’s nuance to the nonchalance; and Link finds plenty of hope, even inside a rotten apple. “Sometimes it feels like life is on my side,” she sings on “Laughing Till I Cry,” understanding that sometimes you’ve got to take a bite.