When I was a kid, we had these family friends who were into a sort of New Age Reform Judaism thing, and when we went to their house for Shabbat dinners, we would have to say one thing we were thankful for. I was never quite sure what to say, and I think I felt some telepathic pressure from my grumpy atheist dad to not be too sincere. Now, with Thanksgiving around the corner, a holiday that has about as much to do with giving thanks as Memorial Day has to do with acknowledging fallen soldiers, there is a slight chance that you too will be forced to acknowledge something that you are thankful for. But if you’re really reaching for it, really having trouble coming up with that killer one-liner that is going to make your parents sigh with relief and say, “Thank god we didn’t raise a total shmuck,” I suggest giving a listen to Be Calm Honcho’s terrific song “Mean Pack,” a wonderful testament to the importance of co-existing with other people.
Although Be Calm Honcho, a four-piece from San Francisco, can often sound like a rock and roll band, “Mean Pack” doesn’t quite feel like a rock and roll song. Without a distinct verse / bridge / chorus structure or hummable melodies, “Mean Pack,” a three-minute celebration of humanity, sounds more like a motivational speech set to music. Like Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Shannon Harney has a voice that perfectly balances authority with a yelping quirkiness, making sweeping statements like “With people, we are everybody / expansive as the skyline,” feel sharp and poignant. By keeping the rest of the band steady and calm, Harney’s vocal quips really pop and leap. I love when she sings “We’re a mean PACK!” and her voice cracks a tiny bit and you get to hear all of the fun she’s having.
None of this is to say that the rest of Be Calm Honcho isn’t doing a terrific job. The guitar parts alternately chug forward and add little responses to Harney’s one-liners, and Michael Carrera’s epic drum fill right at the beginning of the song is the perfect way to kick things into gear. Throughout the song he adds these cymbals that make the song ebb and flow, without ever straying too far from its steady pace. Towards the end of “Mean Pack” I found my favorite line: “Without people we are a person clean as snow / and gone with the wind.” As we find ourselves stuffing our faces this Thursday, it’s a good thing to keep in mind. As for me, I’m just thankful I heard the song.
“Mean Pack” appears on Be Calm Honcho’s recent LP Honcho Dreams, out now on Crossbill Records. Listen to “Mean Pack” below.