Beer and Pavement

The Archers of Loaf Oeuvre, part 2

Posted in Records by SM on February 18, 2011

The Archers of Loaf oeuvre continues. The interesting thing about Loaf is how much they changed stylistically and topically from album to album, but every record was unmistakably Loaf. The next album came out when I was entering my senior year of college and I played the shit out of it. Check it…

All the Nations Airports (Alias, 1996) This album makes even more sense in 2006 than it did in 1996. Talking heads, air traffic security, terrorism, cable news, etc. I think that’s why it feels so fresh for an album that’s nearly 15 years old. I have a picture LP of this one. This might be AoL’s most complete record from beginning to end. Aesthetically, it has a jangle the first two records didn’t contain. Plus, Bachman seems more inclined to sing a bit more than bark.

“Strangled by the Stereo Wire” – Although the cable news cycle and blogosphere were not the monsters they are today, there’s definitely a sense that Bachman knew what were in-store for when he penned this song. The constant feed of news, information, innuendo, opinion, punditry overwhelms and makes situations worse.

“All the Nations Airports” – This album was shaped around the flying and the airline industry from most of the imagery in the music to the design of the packaging. This track calls out this industry for all its inconsistencies and problems. Delays, terrorists, confusion, drunk pilots, slums surrounding airports, house of ill repute, tourists, and drunk pilots all make an appearance in order to demonstrate that which makes airports so despicable.

“Scenic Pastures” – Seeing someone off just to avoid the wretched inevitable. All we can do is stare out the window as we take off.

“Worst Defense” – Airport security was not the intrusion it is today. In fact, I remember it being sort of a joke when I traveled to and through airports in Europe about a year before 9/11. For some reason, American airports used to be so lax in security. That’s changed, but it was unnervingly insecure in the mid-nineties.

“Attack of the Killer Bees” – “Worst Defense” leads almost perfectly into “Attack,” marking yet another flawless transition on an Archers of Loaf album. Killer bees were a big deal in those days. Everybody was worried that they were going to make their way up north and kill us all. The track is an instrumental and works as yet another great transition into the next track.

“Rental Sting” – This makes me think of the bored attendant at the airport rental service. You know, the dude in the jumpsuit who delivers your cars and fills up the gas tanks. Whatever the customer says goes. It’s a waste of life. Why can’t he get is own fucking car?

“Assassination on X-Mas Eve” – This track has made it on nearly every Xmas comp I’ve given away. The unease over the imminent destruction of our innocence in the form of an institution continues. However, instead of the dangers and inadequacies of our airline system, Santa Clause is assassinated. This album was released a good five years before 9/11, but one can easily make connections and parallels. Plus, the song reads like a news report which tries to sensationalize the incompetence that allowed such a tragedy to happen.

“Chumming the Ocean” – The band breaks from convention this time as Bachman sings solo with only a crummy piano to accompany him. Chumming the ocean is when bloody fish pieces are thrown in the water to attract sharks. The diver goes down only to suffer a terrible fate. Along with the dissolution of our culture at the hands of sharks, a hungry media, whoever wishes to feed on humankind. They smell the blood and they go in for the kill.

“Vocal Shrapnel” – The leaches that are the media or whomever seeks to gain from tragedy are back. And if you don’t keep up, you’ll be crushed along with their intended targets. The vocal shrapnel is the vitriol and sensationalism spewed from pundits and talking heads. Once again, this album does an excellent job of foreshadowing the next decade/century.

“Bones of Her Hands” – By far the most jangly song in the Loaf oeuvre, but it’s a fast jingle. I can’t decide whether it’s about modeling or shifty book-keeping.

“Bumpo” – This track reminds me of Bachman’s solo project, Barry Black. Natty Bumpo was a James Fenimore Cooper character who worked as a scout in the 18th century. A white-skinned but raised by Indians, Natty Bumpo did what he could to find peace between warring tribes. I suspect he was a badass and this is his theme.

“Form and File” – Regardless of the imagery I try to attach to this album, it’s certainly also a road record. This track features a recreated phone message a drunken Eric Bachman sent to management concerning some rough times while on tour in Europe. Things are tough and he talks about breaking up. The chorus laughs the whole thing off.

“Acromegaly” – I once wrote heartbroken lyrics to this instrumental after a terrible breakup. I don’t know where they are, but I do know that my song had nothing to do with acromegaly. Acromegaly is basically the syndrome that causes gigantism.

“Distance Comes in Droves” – There’s that moment when you fly that you realize you’re a long way from your origin and your destination at the same time. It’s isolating, but one should relish in this time and consider what awaits or what one’s left behind.

“Bombs Away” – This instrumental is a companion piece to “Chumming…” One can imagine a slow-motion, silent film-like scene featuring World War I era bombers completing a mission while crashing to his doom at the same time.

“Density” – You won’t find this track anywhere on the mp3 or CD versions of the album. I have the vinyl, but not the time to pull it out at the moment. I might update this one once I get a listen in. I owned the CD version for so long that I barely know this track.

White Trash Heroes (Alias, 1998) – The band’s final full-length signaled a marked change in the band’s approach to writing and recording. The album is slicker and much more challenging. Still, it’s unmistakable Loaf. It turned off a lot of die-hard fans and possibly turned the band off. Still, there’s good stuff on this record. It’s certainly worth a spot next to the others even if it won’t be your favorite. This is their “Chapel Hill album.” The band was growing older and their time in Chapel Hill undoubtedly has had a lasting impression on their lives. This particular snapshot finds the band growing older and wiser in regards to their perspective of living in a college town.

“Fashion Bleeds” – Have you ever been downtown in a college town on weekend nights? Shit sucks. A bunch of morons dressed the same, looking to date-rape the girl who wearsno sleeves, coat, and heels lower than two inches in the dead of winter. The same goes for any “revitalized downtown “district” of one sort or the other. Individuality is lost as one douche tries to out-Jersey Shore the next. In the meantime, anything of any real interest – like say a good band playing music these dolts have never heard before – is ridiculed. I suspect this was penned as the band’s little college town changed and they just aged. Of course, the way I remember Loaf, they never fit in that scene anyway.

“Dead Red Eyes” – Continuing down this path, ever have that moment when you feel too old. You’re probably a little fucked up and all you can think is that you’re too old for this shit. You’ve now officially wasted your youth and/or it’s passed you by.

“I.N.S.” – None of the lyrics websites have lyrics for this song. That tells you something about the aesthetic. It’s a driving mid-tempo, distorted track with unintelligible vocals. Maybe it’s about immigration. I don’t know.

“Perfect Time” – It’s hard to watch a friend self-destruct. Drugs, mental illness, bad luck, whatever sends them down a path from which they might not return causes us to panic and step in. It’s a real gut-check for a friendship.

“Slick Tricks and Bright Lights” – With advancing age comes more opportunity for folks to screw you legally or financially. Bad landlords, credit companies, the law, you name it; they’ve got it in for you. It grows tiresome. A band like Archers of Loaf probably dealt with this in the form of shady booking agents and even shadier A&R guys.

“One Slight Wrong Move” – This song is one of the few that thematically takes me back to Vee Vee-era politics. People struggle to make ends meet, yet they are judged by their state in life. The poor and working poor are not lazy. The abused and oppressed didn’t ask for it. The idea that people are solely responsible for their state in life just makes us feel better for our own privilege. The masses and group think should not judge the disenfranchised.

“Banging on a Dead Drum” – Here’s another track where the lyrics are virtually indecipherable. I don’t know whether this was intentional or a case of the band over-thinking it. Interestingly, there were several songs Loaf never learned for the tour supporting White Trash Heros. I suspect this was one of those tracks ignored on set lists. Still, we need more cow bell!

“Smokers in Love” – Loaf was a pretty good band at coming up with interesting and transitional instrumentals. This one in particularly reminds me a ton of Bachman’s side-project, Barry Black. The title makes me think of his Crooked Fingers material.

“After the Last Laugh” – To me, this is a Crooked Fingers track all the way. Drunken and dirty, the song paints a boozy picture of the shadows on the other side of the tracks. It ends with an old beer hall sing along: “After the last laugh has swollen and shut/When all that’s left are the true beer hall drunks.”

“White Trash Heroes” – It’s interesting that the last song in Archers of Loaf’s oeuvre is a synth-heavy drone instead of an all-out rocker. The vocals, themes, and lyrics remind me of Crooked Fingers again. Still, it’s maybe the strongest track of the album. Something strange happened in the south of the past decade and a half. People with money and industry moved south, changing the culture forever. The South is no longer as laid back as it once was. I suspect Chapel Hill was not immune from this transformation. The band’s choice to end with this track was a bittersweet yet perfect ending.

Don’t worry. There’s more. In my final installment, I’ll cover the singles, EP’s, compilation, and live album.

What do you think? Is this what you hear in A0L’s music? Does this make you want to listen to them? Thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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  1. Matthew said, on February 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Hey there; enjoyed your take on the Archers’ music. I can help you out with “I.N.S”. This one was actually written and sung by bassist, outdoors and rock climbing enthusiast, and all around nice feller Matt Gentling. This is his description of the song in his own words:

    “The title I.N.S. came from a Yosemite Search And Rescue term for saving people who’d got into trouble doing something completely stupid. It stood for “Interfering with Natural Selection.” It was supposed to be some kind of high-concept nonsense about how our culture’s sense of entitlement and self-destructiveness has made ripe victims out of us.”

    And here are the actual lyrics (with his own commentary, he’s a bit needlessly self-conscious about them:

    “I’d be happy to write those lyrics out for you if you want, but I can’t do it without the ol’ caveat that they’re worse than middle school poetry, and I hope this doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm for the music, or for Eric’s amazing lyrics.”

    “Hoo boy. I’ve been putting this off. Here are those lyrics to I.N.S.; feel free to make fun of them at will”:

    Won’t come through today,
    My flesh is turning grey
    But treat me right away
    And I’ll go right away.

    Business meets with me
    Like knuckles meet with teeth,
    But I’ll hold out
    For sums of cash beyond belief.

    Days pass at a craw,
    But still the river barges trawl,
    I don’t regret to say
    Some heads will roll
    Some eggs will break

    I’m looking out for truth
    In bottles of vermouth.
    I’m bored beyond retrieval
    Bored beyond belief.

    Find the incision, then make a decision,
    Then fly.

    Find a physician, then find a religion,
    Then die.

    Hatless in the hail,
    I got no cash for bail,
    I’m packed with character
    Flaws that never fail.

    Dogs are first to sniff
    Around my lucky gifts,
    Flocked red-headed eagles’re
    Sniffing at my trail.

    Days pass at a crawl
    But still the river barges trawl,
    The man he smiles and shrugs,
    His head’s too big for the hole we dug.

    And I’ve lost every tooth
    Defending the uncouth,
    I’m broke beyond remittance,
    Broke beyond relief.



    “So, there it is, in all it’s verbose glory. I really just wanted a way to cram in a line about red-headed eagles, which is a local euphemism for vultures, and I thought that was really funny. “

    • builderofcoalitions said, on February 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks a ton, Matt. That’s good stuff. Honestly, I never gave this album the attention it needed. I was so into the band before this record that White Trash Heroes just fell off my map. Thanks again!

  2. Matthew said, on February 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Oh, and though I can’t really help with the lyrics to “Banging on a Dead Drum”, the guys did switch instruments on that track to try and make it more interesting. Eric J. on drums (plenty of cowbell!), Mark Price on bass, Matt Gentling plays that slide guitar part, and Eric B. stuck with guitar since he was the only one who knew the song.

  3. Justin said, on February 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

    This is one that I too gave little attention. I had a copy that the the college radio station I worked was gonna “throw away” because they too gave it too little attention. I think it just didn’t have what alot of fans were expecting. I have lost my copy and now am contemplating an itunes purchase so that I may listen to it repeatedly and immediately.

  4. Justin said, on February 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I am speaking of White Trash Heroes.

  5. […] Mettle **Vee Vee ***All the Nations Airports ****White Trash Heroes ^See […]

  6. […] 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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