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.

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