Friday, July 22, 2011

Archers of what?

Credit where due. It was a brilliant idea. The three of us, presented with the happy magic of a reunited Archers of Loaf would walk through the back catalogue, explicating the titans of our misspent youth as we went. This was our sweet spot, and when P emailed the suggestion I was in, no questions asked. The opportunity, all gift wrapped in gutter punk glory and the dulcet tones of Big E in full croak, to relive the past in anticipation of next month's back to back shows at The EARL. It was fantastic. It was a brilliant idea. Of course I flaked.

It seems most of my contributions these days bear introductions built around why my homework is late. This is no exception. The question at hand being “how could you flake on the Archers?” It's a meatwad, thigh-high fastball on the inner half, with little to no movement. It's the perfect pitch, dead red center of your wheelhouse. How on earth could you whiff on that? It's the freakin' Archers, for God's sake.

The best I can come up with – and I have considered this somewhat thoroughly – is timing. Or more precisely, timeline. Or more, more precisely, the disconnect between the actual timeline of Archers releases and the timeline of Archers-related memory mining from the base of my thick skull. The idea was to walk through the discography chronologically. Icky Mettle to vs Greatest of All Time to Vee Vee to Speed of Cattle, so on and so forth. That makes all sorts of sense, of course. The problem is it completely crashes my mental edifice of all things Archers. I think, for me to properly do this thing, I have to walk through the exercise on the personal timeline rather than the official arc of history. That is to say, I have to start in the middle. Specifically it all has to start with Vee Vee.

It's summer, 1995. P and I are wandering the seemingly endless bins of used and new merch at Eat More Records, up in Norcross, in a run-down strip mall off of Jimmy Carter Blvd, a few miles east of 85. Eat More is maybe the best used record/CD shop in the Atlanta metro, with rack after rack of the utterly unknowable snaking out through a bland space that might have once been a Dollar General. The Fat Man – that's all I ever knew him by, for the record – that owns and operates the place is a force of legend. A trip to Eat More, or one of the few other used record shops in the city, is to us what Mass must be to Catholics. We'll usually traipse out every couple of weeks or so and sift through the wares. Our own little ritualistic dance. Scan the bins. Flip the discs. Never sure what the hell we might find.

It's summer, 1995. I pretty sure I've heard the Archers a few times on Album 88. Memory is fickle even at the best of times, and this is the High Period of Categorical Insobriety, so take it for what it is. But I'm pretty sure I've heard the Archers a couple of times before. I may have seen them open for Weezer. Or maybe someone else did and I'm blurring stories told a hundred times into false memories of my own. Who knows? Does it matter? Isn't that how communities worth living in are made? It's summer, '95, and I'm pretty sure I've heard “Harnessed in Slums,” or maybe “Might,” on the radio once or twice. P and I are sifting through Eat More at our own paces, and somewhere in the Ar-As bin I stumble upon this.

I suspect it will take too long to explain, in this age of digital downloads, iTunes, lossless audio, etc, et al, how it makes such perfect sense to have the cover art be the kicker that makes the decision between “meh, not today” and “I need this.” Such are the pains of the aging hipster, I suppose. This is how I took Vee Vee home with me. $5.99 used, promo copy. Still has the “not for resale” imprint on the cover. This is how I heard Archers for the first time. Not chronologically. I'm pretty sure I'd heard singles on the radio. Might have seen them open for another show, even. But this is the first true listening. Because this is the first time we put the disc in the tray, put on the headphones, and lose the world to the sound.

So, that's the excuse. Archers, for me, don't start with the “Might” single released prior to Icky Mettle in '94. Archers, for me, starts with Vee Vee. Archers, for me, start with “Step Into the Light.”

How does one do this without becoming that guy? How does one do this without boring the audience by being the old man ranting about how much better it was when he was young? I honestly don't know. I honestly don't know how to convey to non-believers the hook. It's like trying to explain heroine to a straight-edger. How could you even begin to do that? There's that kick/snare, and the simple walking guitar, all starting at once. There's the weird, broken, post-punk doo-wop chorus - “ooooooooo, ooooo” - as the bass and second guitar slides in. Then there's that weird tweaking, half plucked, warped out, deconstructed lead line from Big E. There's the low slung, perfect tone of Little E's rhythm work. And it just...builds. Without building. It just walks into and out of the shadows. Until, two minutes and 40 seconds into, Bachmann side-saunters in, as tweaked, and half-plucked, and warped out and deconstructed as the his guitar work. Trampled. Destroyed. Beyond repair or salvation.

Step into the light; I'm tired of being in the dark and all alone. Step into the light.” Repeat. And then Little E and the backing vocals. As if you can call that backup. Around the 3:06 mark. There are so few moments of recorded music of which I can truly say this, but I promise you, if you can ever come to understand this moment of this song – where Little E comes in screeching “STEP INTO THE LIIIIIIIIIIIIGHHHTTT” off mic in the background as the bigger Eric half croons through his lead dirge, you will understand the healing power of rock and roll.

And as far as it goes, constructively speaking, that's it. That's the song. And it's fucking brilliant. And it fades. And then you're hit in the teeth with the boot heel of “Harnessed in Slums.”

I'm going to assume that if you're reading an off-the-beaten-path indie rock webzine's writeup of the Archers of Loaf's back catalogue you have heard “Harnessed in Slums” once or twice. I will assume you can shout it out loud. That said, I'll leave you to it, noting only two things. First, there's Little E again, at the 45 second mark, again off mic. “I WANT WASTE! WE WANT WASTE!” Crescendoing. Building. Teetering uncontrollably towards the song's pitch perfect pivot. Which, for the record, in case you're interested, is a single plucked, out of tune guitar string at the 1:37 mark.

I promise.

Slide into “Nevermind the Enemy.” Note the strategic use of the “truck backing up reverse siren warning sound” in the guitar lick. Note that sampling was not a new endeavor for Eric Bachmann when he moved to his solo work with Crooked Fingers. “Nevermind your friends. We'll make a joke of them.” Trust me on this one, okay? And oh, for the love of God, don't miss the line about halfway through that pushes full throttle into track four and previews the album's entire thematic structure. “Let's tack their earlobes to the radio.” I swear.

And that brings us to track four. “The Greatest of All Time.” I could literally write six or seven pages about this one song. I won't, because that would bore most people to tears. In fact, I think I'll just try to sum up as quickly as possible. “The Greatest of All Time” is the best track Archers of Loaf ever recorded. “The Greatest of All Time” is one of the top five songs recorded in the 1990s. “The Greatest of All Time” is the early-90s slacker-culture's gestalt answer to Don McLean's “American Pie.” It can not be understood without reference, in some way, to Ben Folds' (ironic) breakthrough hit “Underground.” If you can listen to this song and not howl along with the chorus - “Toasting to their heroes; toasting to their heroes; a toast to the dead heroes” - you were not alive and conscious for the better parts of my youth.

I swear.

So yeah, maybe I'm already that guy. Maybe there's not out to this trap. I'm probably alright with that, now that I think about it. I could continue with the track list, but if you're listening along, you should have it at this point. Everything forward harkens back to this moment. “The underground, is overcrowded.” Underdogs of Nipoma. Right there. “Scraping over matches and a microbrew.” “Since you're better at me than this...” All right there in GOAT. “The underground, is overcrowded.” Don't say we didn't see the tsunami of “indie rock” of the 2000s coming. We did. It's all right there. “Fabricoh's the favorite sound around. Watch the wholesale slaughter of the whole damned town.” Let The Loser Melt. “Underachievers, attack at your leisure.” The Worst Is Yet To Come.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


This post was inspired by this conversation at, and this post from the always brilliant Don Malcolm of BigBadBaseball.

There's been a lot of talk recently about realignment in Major League Baseball. Much of that talk includes the term “radical” as a descriptor of proposed schemes. The so-called “radical” realignment scenarios usually involve a complete tear down of the existing American League/National League distinctions, to be replaced with a more holistic “Major League Baseball” aligned by geography. Much as the old American Football League was subsumed, becoming a conference in the NFL, the old AL/NL distinctions would become mere divisional semantics of the greater, realigned MLB concept.

There are a few very good reasons for realignment. Primarily, it is a problem of math. There are 30 major league teams. 14 play in the American League. 16 play in the National League. Each league is divided into three divisions. The NL Central has six teams (the other two divisions have five each.) The AL West has four teams (the other two divisions have five each.) The entire point of so-called “radical realignment is to move one of those NL teams to the American League in order to create six divisions (three per league) of five teams each. The problem with that theory is that in order to do that, you have to schedule and interleague game every day of the season, in order to make the math work for a 30 team league. And having interleague every day pretty much means you don't actually have two “leagues,” an AL and a NL. You have one league, with six divisions. This is what they call “radical.”

I hate the misuse of terms. I also hate small minded solutions that cower in the face of the actual problem. The problem isn't that MLB needs to move a team from the NL to the AL. The problem is that MLB has too few teams. The obvious solution isn't to create some sort of wonky 6x5 league with “interleague” play every day. The obvious solution is to add at least two teams.

At BTF, I suggested a team in Salt Lake City and another in Newark, NJ. Both would go into the AL, creating two leagues with 16 teams each. The basic layout of the leagues was thus:



This alignment is the least radical possible. It literally solves the problem in the fewest steps, without switching franchises from their traditional leagues. Put a new team in Newark, playing in the AL East. Put a new team in Salt Lake, playing in the AL West. Play baseball. Simple. Easy. Not radical. The hardest part of this strategy would be to carve out a new franchise in existing New York Yankees territory, a problem I'd suggest be solved by eliminating the “luxury tax” system, wherein the Yankees, after crossing a certain threshold of payroll, have to pay other teams a “tax” from their coffers. A team in Newark cuts into the Yankees' gigantic market (as well as that of the Mets) so there's no reason to double penalize them for being, well, the Yankees.

This seems like a straight forward solution to me. But for some reason, the powers that be in MLB refuse to even consider expansion. I blame Bob Costas.

Regardless, after putting this together, I got to thinking about what a true “radical” plan might entail. Now, granted, as a former card-carrying radical of the radical school of radicality, I might have different ideas as to what plans could honestly use that moniker, but hey, it's my blog.

Going through the thought experiment, starting with a few grounding assumptions.

  1. The proper direction is out, not in. MLB should be growing it's product, not shuffling pieces around the board with no real future-oriented strategy in mind.

  2. The smallest market in baseball, currently, is the Milwaukee metro, with just under 1.7 mil people in its Combined Statistical Area. Rounding a bit, a million and a half is the smallest market size that would likely support a ML baseball team.

  3. There are eleven (11!) markets in the United States larger than Milwaukee that lack a MLB team.

  • Orlando
  • Sacramento
  • Charlotte
  • Indianapolis
  • Columbus, OH
  • Las Vegas
  • Austin
  • Raleigh-Durham
  • Salt Lake City
  • Nashville
  • Greensboro, NC

Eleven markets! Eleven new potential baseball teams! Think of the radical possibilities. But wait. Let's balance our crazy with some realism. We're not 20-somethings with an irrational hatred of corporate coffee shops any more. Orlando, while over 2 million strong, is very close to Tampa and the Rays. And the Rays are having a hard enough time drawing customers as it is. Orlando's off the list.

Columbus, OH is actually a bit larger than Cleveland these days, and growing rather than shrinking, but Cleveland already has the stadium and the team. Columbus is too close to the Indians, so they're off the list too.

Three of the markets are in North Carolina. While NC is booming, I don't think it's ready to go from zero to three franchises over night. We'll leave Charlotte on the list, but remove the Raleigh-Durham Triangle and Greensboro from consideration. Marking those off as well, we're left with only seven potential expansion sites.

  • Sacramento
  • Charlotte
  • Indianapolis
  • Las Vegas
  • Austin
  • Salt Lake City
  • Nashville

You've got enough markets to bring in the two new American League teams, PLUS another division entirely. But you can't have a single, orphaned four- or five-team division off by itself. You need at least eight ne2 teams, in addition to the two new AL teams, to really expand. Luckily, we haven't even begun to exhaust the potential markets.

As I said earlier, the smallest market in MLB is Milwaukee, with just over 1.5 million people in it's Combined Statistical Area. The vast majority of MLB franchises operate within CSA markets of 1.5-6 million residents. BUT, there are a few notable exceptions. New York, as previously noted, has 22 million people, but only two teams. If we assume the City splits evenly (and there's no reason to gut punch Mets fans at this particular moment, so why not) that's 11 million per franchise. Clearly, the NYC metro can take another team. In fact, if we use the same math from above, wherein 1.5 mil people creates a metro-market to sustain an MLB franchise, NYC could support 14 franchises. FOURTEEN!

(Dear Yankees fans, if you want to know how it feels to be a Pirates or Royals fan watching your payroll eclipse theirs by factors of ten, think about having more than 14 competing teams in the metro area.)

Now, I'm a reasonable man. I don't think we should break the NYC metro up between 14 different teams. That's just silly. Assuming that some New Yorkers don't even like baseball at all, I'm fine with doubling the market size needed to support a single-franchise city for the multiple franchise model. You only need 1.5 mil or so to support a single team, but to support two teams you probably need 5 or 6 mil. Which is fine. Instead of 11 NYC teams, we'll only assign them with two expansion teams – one in Newark, NJ; another in Brooklyn. That's 5+ million citizens – or roughly the size of the entire Atlanta-Marietta-Sandy Springs metro area, per team. We now have an additional two franchises!

But there's no reason to single NYC out for the slice and dice. Los Angeles has just under 19 million people. Again, we'll be generous and just add a third franchise to the LA basin.

Chicago has 9-10 mil, but we've already added a new franchise to Indianapolis, which abuts South Chicago more or less, so we'll keep ChiTown as a two team city. But Boston has nearly 8 million people. No reason not to add a new NL team to Beantown.

At this point, we slide into the “just over 6 mil in population” cities. Dallas. Philly. Houston. Dallas, at near 7 mil and growing, could probably take a second team. We'll draw the line at Philly's 6.2 mil, unless we desperately need a final franchise to balance things out.

At this point we've added eleven new MLB teams.

  • Sacramento
  • Charlotte
  • Indianapolis
  • Las Vegas
  • Austin
  • Salt Lake City
  • Nashville
  • Brooklyn
  • Newark
  • Boston NL
  • Dallas NL

Imagine that league for a moment. Every major city in the country has a major league baseball team. Every franchise has a roughly equal market from which to draw fans. Sure, the historically manifest brands will maintain their position of dominance – not every Yankee fan in Jersey is going to burn his Cap'n Jetes jersey the day the Newark Sopranos open shop. But the field is a lot more even. And being that there are a ton more teams, you can cut the regular season drastically, have distinct leagues without interleague play, AND have a playoff structure that includes like, twenty friggin' teams. What could a Selig not love about this plan?

But wait. We're not done. There are some rather notable markets outside of the US boundaries, currently unserved by MLB. Let's assume you need 2-3 million unAmerican fans to support America's past time.

  • Mexico City, Mexico (22 m)
  • Guadalajara, Mexico (4.5 m)
  • Monterrey, Mexico (4 m)
  • Puebla, Mexico (2.6 m)
  • Juarez-El Paso, aka The Borderplex, Mexico/Texas (2.5 m)
  • Montreal, Canada (3.8 m)
  • Vancouver, Canada (2.3 m)
  • San Juan, Puerto Rico (2.6 m)
  • Havana, Cuba (2.1 m)

Okay, fine. Is it too radical to put a team in Castro's Cuba? Even considering the possibility of the “natural rivalry” between the Miami Marlins and the Havana Your-Family-Goes-To-Prison-If-We-Lose? Fine. Pussy. Call it another eight potential teams.

30 + 11 + 8 (with a second Philly team, and/or Havana in the wings) = 49. Forty-nine potential teams! Radical realignment.













There you go. A 48 team super league. 12 divisions of four teams each. And for you traditionalists out there, I've maintained both the Red Sox-Yankees and Cubs-Cards rivalries.

Win your division, go to the playoffs. Period. End of story. Scheduling to accommodate travel and balanced competition. No need for Mexico City to play the Yankees, so long as Mexico City and Monterrey play the same schedule. The MLB playoffs become a true World Series, a North American championship to put all other international competitions to shame. Hell, when it's all done and you have the champion challenge the Japanese and Korean leagues to play each other so that the winner would fly over and face off for global bragging rights.

Grow baseball. Level market access around the league. You know. Radicalism.