Beer and Pavement

The Archers of Loaf Oeuvre, part 1

Posted in Records by SM on February 14, 2011

I recognize that I’ve been writing a lot about Archers of Loaf lately. With their impending reunion tour coming, I’ve been listening to a ton of their records. It’s got me thinking that their entire oeuvre deserves a look, maybe not like this, but a look nonetheless. Here’s the first in a two (or three) part series. I’ll attempt to write briefly about each song in the oeuvre. These are not “official” interpretations. They are mine and mine alone. If you are familiar, feel free to give your two cents in the comments. If not, comment anyway.

For today’s post, I only made it through the first two full-length albums, but I’ll add to that in the coming post(s). So, here it goes…

Icky Mettle (Alias, 1993) – This is the nasty breakup record of the oeuvre. There’s a theme of some pretty hateful ideas throughout. Despite this, it’s not an overly sexist album. Frontman Eric Bachman is just really pissed at the deceit he’s suffered at the hands of an ex-girlfriend.

“Web in Front” – This was the hit. It sort of sets up the entire first record with relational failure. He wanted it to work, but it couldn’t. I suspect the relationship ended quickly. It’s cool at this point, but he gets pissed as the record moves on.

“Last Word” – More clarity is coming to the breakup and it’s starting to piss him off. He accepts his part, but something tells me the other party is making it worse.
“Wrong” – Now he’s pissed. He’s telling her to get away from him and to basically leave him alone. The relationship has gone from “oh well, that’s over” to “man, she was starting to irk me” to “leave me alone already.”

“You and Me” – He’s exasperated at this point. She’s still looking for answers as to why it ended and he points to how they just weren’t that happy.

“Might” – The most perfect transition ever recorded happens here as “You and Me” ends and “Might” begins. The band doesn’t miss a beat as one song ends and the next begins at the same moment. The first time I saw Loaf, I remember them pulling this off live and I could see every indie nerd in the crowd mouth “just like on the album.” Things get meta at this point in the record. He’s suffered this heartache and now sits to write songs about it, but there’s loads of self-doubt – something that exists throughout the record – and he’s not sure it’s worth his time.

“Hate Paste” – Now he’s just spewing pure hate. He’s really letting her have it. This track is one of the most angry of the oeuvre and it comes right in the middle of maybe the most angry breakup album ever.

“Fat” – I imagine this as the morning after song after some post-breakup sex. He wakes to find her exposed and not looking as good as he used to think. The best thing to do (in his mind) is to say the meanest thing he can think of just to break it off for good this time.

“Plumb Line” – Again, clarity comes and he sees the relationship for the failed experiment it was. He sees her for the shallow “indie rocker” she is. Interestingly, I remember this as a key point in the use of the word “indie.” I’m sure it wasn’t the first time the terms was ever used, far from it. However, this was the first and only time I remember it being used in a song. That and it entered my lexicon from this point forward.

“Learo, You’re a Hole” – I suspect “Learo” is a nickname for the ex. He’s pretty pissed. The saga continues.

“Sick File” – This is the long way to tell someone to shut-up.

“Toast” – Where Pixies mastered the quiet-loud dynamic, Archers of Loaf were all about the slow build and fade. More on this later. If this album were a narrative, I would imagine that this takes place in the future after a reunion, but I suspect it’s about that moment when one looks back on the relationship and is able to pinpoint that exact moment it all went down the crapper. It usually starts with something simple and mundane as burnt toast, but sometimes that’s all it takes when there’s something wrong.

“Backwash” – Another song about shutting-up, this time there’s the added “I won’t listen to anything you have to say.”

“Slow Worm” – The lingering stench of breaking up is getting old. It’s time to move on, but this is the rock bottom before recovery is complete. He’s faking it like he’s moved on, but he can’t stop talking (or singing) about the break-up that inspired an entire record.

Vee Vee (Alias, 1995)

“Step into the Light” – As mentioned above, Loaf perfected the slow build and fade. This song is just one giant build into the next. I’m pretty certain they opened with this the first time I saw them. One gets the sense from the start that there’s some musicianship going on in Archers of Loaf beyond the pure intensity of the band’s early releases. Interestingly, it’s this moment when Loaf step away from the anger and depression of Icky Mettle and into the “light” of Vee Vee, stylistically and emotionally.

“Harnessed in Slums” – Ironically, the band breaks off that slow build with one of their angriest songs. Literally and figuratively, the band steps into the light sees the world through a fresh perspective. This is where Archers of Loaf’s blue-collar, almost Socialist image is sculpted. It’s a call to arms for the poor and disenfranchised to rise up and put a stop to this wasteful, superficial lie capitalism is selling us. The song would play well with the protests in Egypt as imagery.

“Nevermind the Enemy” – The enemy are those who are greedy, disciples of capitalism. The class warfare continues.

“Greatest of All Time” – Taking a step back from the political, Loaf approaches the alternative music scene of the early/mid-nineties. The unknown band is squashed while the rock star is worshipped like a god. At the time, I imagined Archers of Loaf as playing the part of “the world’s worst rock ‘n roll band” and REM as the “greatest band of all time.” The song probably wasn’t meant to be that literal, but these roles helped me paint the picture in my head. At the time, REM were a pretty big band (still are) and Michael Stipe’s ego appeared to be even larger. Loaf, on the other hand, were possibly in the midst of being courted by record labels as almost any decent indie rock band of the time was. Despite the relative success of “Web in Front,” that (monetary) success never happened. I suspect they weren’t squeaky clean enough as popular music was moving away from grunge and toward something, well, poppier.

“Underdogs of Nipomo” – After Vee Vee was released, Archers of Loaf were courted by Maverick Records. This song demonstrates their disdain for certain major labels and possibly even the Southern Cal ethos. It’s another example of why their songs have a blue collar feel. There’s a guy, possible a fan to see the band in Nipomo, CA. He’s jumping on this bandwagon, but Loaf want him to get off. It’s also the only example I can think of where the term “microbrew” is used in a song.

“Floating Friends” – Friends floating away suggests that people, in some cases bands, moving on to better-paying gigs, fancier cities/newer suburbs, and basically selling out. Loaf hailed from Chapel Hill. Kids with new degrees often go the sell-out route. Loaf stayed around, stayed on their indie label, and continued to do things on their own terms.

“1985” – Filler that leads perfectly into…

“Fabricoh” – Another blue-collar, class warfare anthem picks up here. A running theme throughout AoL’s oeuvre is the calling out the latest trends for the superficial luxuries they are.

“Nostalgia” – Aesthetically, I always thought of this track as the band’s tribute to Black Flag. Thematically and topically, it’s more of a tribute to Marlon Brandon in The Wild One. It’s a fond nostalgia for a time when rebels wore black leather, rode motorcycles, and fought authority to the end.

“Let the Loser Melt” – The indie rock scene is a regular topic throughout AoL’s material. This one’s about all the hype and excitement around indie rock is often dashed as soon as a band signs and releases an album with a mojor label. Despite recording  superior music, they don’t achieve the promised sales, relegating them to flop status.

“Death in the Park” – Despite some pretty literal imagery, this track is one of the more ambiguous on the record. Still, it seems to be about “the same people pissing the same people off.” In other words, it’s always the right versus the left, one religion insulting another, or a racial slur leading to a hate crime. All that’s needed is some empathy now and again.

“The Worst Has Yet to Come” – You sold out. I didn’t. I have freedom to fail. You don’t. You have capital for luxuries. Me, not so much.

“Underachievers March and Fight Song” – Frontman Eric Bachman dropped out of his music education college program because he didn’t want to become a high school band director. The first sign of this marching band background comes through this track in the form of a warble-y trumpet march. Again, the topic of independent music comes up. The underachievers are supposedly the bands in the underground who have yet to compromise their  principals for a big paycheck.

Next up: All the Nations Airports and more…

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5 Responses

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  1. Justin said, on February 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    I always thought Toast was like a comedic break in the whole melodrama of Icky Mettle.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 14, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      I never did. It’s like that little thing that just eats at you when things are wrong. Like, your significant other just does a little thing like burning your toast and it sets you off. Of course, it wasn’t just the toast. Maybe it was her flirting with that dude at a party or lying to you or refusing sex over and over and over and over…well, you get the picture. It is sort of funny, but when you listen to the whole thing, the context sucks all the humor out.

  2. Justin said, on February 14, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Also I love that you keep writing about Archers of Loaf. Also, will Archers of Loaf vs the greatest of all time be included? While only an EP I think it deserves a mention. Perhaps just as a continuation of the theme resonating throughout VeeVee? Perhaps as something more. Your thoughts?

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      Yeah, I’m writing about every song they ever recorded. EP’s and singles will be included. I had hoped to do it all in one post, but that was not meant to be. I should be able to do two more albums and an EP in the next post. Vs. the Greatest of All-Time actually came out before Vee Vee. I think it was a nice transition from one to the next. I suspect they wrote the EP songs on tour, before they had an album in-mind. The themes continued onto Vee Vee.

  3. […] project for another day. On this blog, I once wrote three posts discussing the complete catalog of Archers of Loaf. However, today, I intend to take on the oeuvre of one Stephen Malkmus and his ever-faitful […]

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