This young, unpretentious indie band was one of the most enjoyable alternative acts to emerge in the early to mid-‘90s. Often compared to Pavement and Superchunk (who also hail from Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Archers Of Loaf’s jagged guitar attack and powerful rhythm section produce consistently entertaining and occasionally even thrilling results. Their off-kilter, ringing guitar sound might be a tad too chaotic and noisy for non-indie loving ears, but the band almost always finds room for melody, and singer Eric Bachmann possesses a throaty, shouting vocal style that’s fitting for his various rants. Sure, their lyrics sometimes betray the band’s youthful immaturity, but they also pay off handsomely with memorably quizzical quips such as “all I ever wanted was to be your spine” and brutally honest revelations like “I do not want you because you are inferior to me.” But lyrics are secondary to the band’s distinctive, dissonant pop sound, which is best heard on catchy, hard charging anthems such as “Last Word” and “Wrong.” “Web In Front” (a college radio hit), “Might,” “Plumb Line,” and “Slow Worm” also see the band at their best, and though Archers of Loaf offer little in the way of variety it hardly matters since they’re so good at working within their narrow scope.
Archers Of Loaf Vs. The Greatest Of All Time (Alias ‘94) Rating: A-
I’m generally against recommending EPs, since they give consumers less than half an album at more than half the price. However, Archers Of Loaf maintain their high standards on this all too brief 5-song EP, which clocks in at a mere 17:29. Though several of those minutes are taken up by less than completely compelling guitar noodling, much of this mini-album is riveting. “Audiowhore” explodes amidst screaming vocals and churning guitars, while the alternately mellow and hard-driving but always melodic “Lowest Part Is Free!” then segues into the relaxed melodicism of “Freezing Point.” Also strong is the stomping “All Hail The Black Market,” which ends another impressive outing.
Vee Vee (Alias ‘95) Rating: A-
Vee Vee was another intense, hard rocking effort featuring all of their strengths: raging, discordant guitar lines and tribal, powerhouse rhythms that anchor noisily propulsive anthems. Archers Of Loaf rail against the record industry and their modest place within it, most memorably on the mid-tempo epic “The Greatest Of All Time,” which notes that “the underground is overcrowded.” They also add some needed variety to their attack on the evocative “Step Into The Light” and the languidly melodic “Floating Friends,” while “Underachievers March and Fight Song” amusingly features Salvation Army Horns. But by and large the band’s core sound remains intact, and their increased diversity merely enhances their deliriously assaultive yet grippingly melodic guitar attack. Vee Vee is similar to Icky Mettle in that it’s a frontloaded album that contains a few great songs, several very good songs, and some that I could probably live without. The end result is another batch of edgy but catchy rockers, and another borderline great album that's highlighted by the careening classic “Harnessed In Slums,” the seriously set to overdrive assault of “Fabricoh,” and the aforementioned "The Greatest Of All Time,” all of which should rank high on any short list of great ‘90s indie songs.
All The Nations Airports (Alias ‘96) Rating: B+
This album offers some interesting new twists to the Archers' distinctive sound, but it ultimately fails to measure up to their previous albums. Although the band’s high-powered attack remains, and despite their successful integration of fresh instrumentation (specifically piano) into an increasingly varied musical package, the songwriting here fails to measure up to past efforts, which produced readily identifiable classics upon first listen. The new album’s lyrics are generally even more oblique and seemingly nonsensical than on past efforts, but what can be deciphered from Bachmann’s hoarse shouts are that the Archers no longer seem as self absorbed, which yields some notable commentary on the outside world. This comes across best on “Assassination on X-Mas Eve,” whose supreme melody belies its scathing outlook, and “Chumming The Oceans,” a mellow track reminiscent of The Replacements at their most earnest. Other standout songs include “Attack Of The Killer Bees,” an instrumental (one of several) that conjures a menacing image of a deadly swarm, and “Distance Comes In Droves,” a heavy and intense number notable for its stop and start dynamics. Unfortunately, although All The Nations Airports offers up some strong songs ("Strangled By The Stereo Wire," the title track, and “Form and File” could also be called out as highlights) it’s a mildly disappointing album overall, as its fifteen songs have more ups and downs than we’re accustomed to from these guys. Alas, such is the burden of lofty expectations. Note: Also in 1996 came The Speed Of Cattle (1996), a b-sides and rarities collection. White Trash Heroes (1998) followed and the band then broke up before a posthumously released live album, Seconds Before The Accident (2000), officially closed the books on Archers Of Loaf (or so it would seem).
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