Beer – craft or otherwise – has always had a reputation for being had on the cheap. This mentality is what keeps so many from even trying a craft beer. Even for craft beer enthusiasts, complaining about beer prices is like complaining about the weather.
I won’t lie. I’ve spent my fair share on beer, but even I won’t (normally) buy a $45 bottle like our friend Jim of Beer and Whiskey Brothers fame. Well, I’d probably chip in to try some, but $45 is a lot to spend on one 750 mL bottle of beer. There’s something about that mental hurdle (that I clear regularly) that one should never pay more for beer than they do wine.
The Beer Bourgeois doesn’t care about price. All they want are the best and rarest beers. That’s cool. It would be cooler if everyone could afford these special beers, but I don’t really mind that there are $45 bottles of beer out there, waiting to empty my wallet. I’ve been know to partake in the bourgeois shenanigans. I understand the allure and payoff involved in drinking expensive beer.
It’s an interesting issue when you factor in the cheap beer syndrome that typically prevails in diehard and casual beer drinkers alike. The diehard beer enthusiast complains because he has to have that beer or that these beers drive up the prices on more regular brews. The casual beer drinker doesn’t give a shit either way.
Something similar happens with records. While this sometimes happens with special packaging or pressings, it more often occurs when bands re-release their seminal work form decades past. Albums that could hardly sell more than a few thousand copies can now ask top-dollar for re-issues pressed on 180-gram vinyl and sporting new packaging.
There’s no better example of this than the flurry of reissues from 90s indie heroes Archers of Loaf. Two particular re-issues just came out a week or two ago in the form of All the Nation’s Airports and White Trash Heroes. The vinyl is non-black and heavy. The artwork has been completely re-imagined. The liner notes offer a bit more while the digital download still has more to offer. It’s everything for which an indie child of the 90s could ask and all for almost 20 bucks a pop, considerably more than what those records used to go for.
Let me be clear. I am not complaining. I am glad that these albums are receiving the proper re-issue treatment. I am elated to own all of Loaf’s full-length albums on vinyl. (Although, I already owned Vee Vee and a picture disc of All Nations prior to their reunion and re-issue-palooza, not to mention numerous singles and EPs.) This is a good development in that I get some nice records and these deserving artists finally get the recognition they deserve.
I’m also fairly willing to spend money on high-end beers. I mean, these are the best beers in the world and yet they’re still a fraction of their wine-y equivalent. I won’t buy cases of expensive beer, but I’ll buy a bottle or a glass on tap just so that I can try it.
So, this may actually make me part of the bourgeois with limits. I am firmly middle-class, but I have to budget my money. I guess more of us (reading this post) are in that situation than not.
So, are you a bourgois beer nerd/geek/enthusiast/whatever? Are you record-buying and concert-going behaviors of the bourgeois? I came to conclusions I did not fully expect. Where do you stand? Does it even matter? Am I just reaching for blogging topics at this point?
Either way, Jim liked the beer I mentioned above and the Archers of Loaf re-issues are totally worth the money, if you’re into that kind of thing and can afford it.
Some people worry about the silliest of things. It seems another craft brewery (or cidery?) has been purchased by one of the big, corporate bad guys. The worry is that our corporate overlords will buy up all the good breweries and make us drink only rice-adjunct, industrial swill in cans.
On the surface, this sounds like something about which I should also be worried, but I’m not. Typically, I’m as anti-corporate as they come. I prefer craft breweries (as designated by BA) and indie labels. However, a capitalist economy is cannibalistic. This is what happens.
In many ways, precedent for an independent industry such as craft beer can be found in indie rock. There were indie labels well before the current craft beer movement took off. These labels were nearly wiped out through corporate takeovers before seeing an underground resurgence in the 80’s and a boom in the 90’s. During that boom, particularly in the mid-90’s, indie labels were signing deals with major labels almost as fast as indie bands. Many are still tied to major labels, taking advantage of corporate resources and distribution channels.
We indie rock fans (read: middle class, white, college kids, mostly male) feared for the indie labels. There was a thinking every time a Matador or Sub Pop signed a distribution deal with a major label that the days of innovation and creativity would be lost. Guided By Voices would be replaced by the Backstreet Boys. Sebadoh would record with orchestras and Phil Spector turning the nobs. Cat Power would do dance numbers in her videos a la Madonna. The end of indie was upon us.
However, that’s not what happened. Sure, some indie labels folded or changed their rosters to suit their corporate overlords, but most thrived in this system. Matador improved their distribution, garnering attention for some of their more-deserving acts. Sub Pop kept their doors open and lights on thanks to profitable deals with the devil. Still, other labels like Merge maintained their independence, putting off their eventual success in favor of slow-but-steady growth.
The success of indie labels traversing corporate waters is the ideal predictor for craft breweries now having to deal with the big brewers, or BMC. Some have openly worried that Goose Island will lose its edge now that it is owned by INBEV. On one hand, AB-INBEV has purchased naming rights based on several area codes, hoping to capitalize on the “localization” of Goose Island’s 312 Urban Wheat. Conversely, their beer geek favorite line of bourbon barrel-aged brews, better known as Bourbon County Stout, still seem to have a spot in the lineup. I suspect one will soon be able to find Goose Island everywhere, providing at least one craft-like beer choice wherever one goes. Additionally, consider all the new beer drinkers Goose Island will bring to craft beer. It seems the gloom and doom expressed over this buy-out is short-sighted and a bit hyperbolic.
Another fear is that some craft brewers are getting too big, emulating the practices of the industrial beer producers. It was worried that Stone would grow too large with its expansions of the last five years. New Belgium is slowly overtaking the lands east of the Mississippi. Sam Adams has long been a punching bag for craft beer fans intent on searching out only the rarest and most extreme of the craft beer scene. However, larger does not necessarily mean the quality will drop off. If anything, the successes of these breweries mean that more drinkers will find that beer is more than fizzy yellow stuff.
The same thing has happened with indie labels. As Matador, Sub Pop, Merge, and others have grown, so has their reach and influence over music in general. Arcade Fire’s Grammy triumph last year is a perfect example of this. A large reason Arcade Fire was so successful was that Merge’s policy of letting bands make all the decisions allowed them to control how they were marketed. Merge’s success over the years meant that this marketing message would reach a wider audience than once thought possible. Growth is not necessarily a bad thing.
Although I love to see small, independent businesses succeed as they are, I also recognize that some have to make concessions in order to survive. Utilizing the resources and networks corporations can offer can be a good thing as long as it doesn’t affect the product or a company’s standards. The same can be said for growing larger and expanding. As long as the beer and music remains of high quality, I’m not sure that I care how they do it. (This is assuming that there’s no slave labor or some other immoral business practice involved.)
When overreaction over supposed trends in craft beer happen, all we have to do is look to indie rock for how these things will turn out. Often, when craft breweries practice small, steady growth in an effort to put out a quality product the way they want to, good things happen. The worry over craft beer selling out is an unfounded one. The good will survive this time much the same way indie rock has survived its own flirtations with major labels.
Update: As I was considering this topic, other developments that caused additional stress in the beer blogosphere. It seems that craft breweries are closing. Now, some have the proper perspective to not fall for the panic, but others are worrying that the market is over-saturated. I seem to remember a similar lament in indie rock 15 years ago…
Honestly, there’s not really a trend or all that many people actually talking about it. I just wanted to post that song. The over-saturation of the market has been suggested, but it seems unfounded.
Eric Bachman, like Stephen Malkmus, is one of my generation‘s gracefully aging rock heroes. For previous generations, that may fall upon the likes of Paul McCartney, David Bowie, or Bruce Springsteen. These musicians create a huge buzz when they’re young, creating art that is immediate and loaded with energy ideal for the times. Then, they get older and develop into better musicians along the way. Lost is some of that urgency, but they gain a certain proficiency in their craft that keeps their die-hard fans interested.
Bachman fronted one of my favorite bands of all-time, Archers of Loaf. The music he has created since their late-nineties demise is far from the blue-collar, Carolina indie that spoke to me in my 20’s. Instead, he opted for darker, more textured songs about drunks and hurt. I gravitated to this new direction as it was a chance to still hear and see one of my favorite artists. Even though Crooked Fingers albums tend to not resemble anything on a Loaf record – aside from Bachman’s growl – the live show reminded me why Loaf was so engaging.
The Crooked Fingers discography is an odd lot. The first two albums (Crooked Fingers and Bring on the Snakes) are nice companion pieces, telling stories of drunken depression and back alley romance. Red Devil Dawn brought together the bar band Bachman had created in filling the void left by Loaf, capturing the live energy for what is a powerful record. Things began to get shaky with the adventurous concept album Dignity and Shame. Projects like these either spur on huge crossovers or signal the end of a band. At the time, it seemed to mean the latter.
Then, Bachman recorded a solo record from a van in Seattle. The naked craftsmanship of To the Races helped me to appreciate his talent sans the Loaf hangover. The songs are expertly written and the subtle production and arrangements help create one of the most intimate records no one listens to.
Instead of building on the rawness of Races, Bachman continued to go down the path Dignity led him in recording the forgettable Forfeit/Fortune. The feel of this record was one of Bachman searching for something new or a direction he could embrace. Although it contained elements from his earlier Crooked Fingers projects, it had this forced aura of eclecticism and variety. Honestly, I haven’t listened to that album in a couple of years and I don’t feel the need to do it now.
Then, something unexpected happened. Archers of Loaf, the last holdout in the 90’s reunion/revival circuit, did the unthinkable and reunited for a tour this year. The original plan was to tour in support of reissues of the band’s four albums, but now there’s talk of recording. We’ll see.
An unexpected result of that reunion might be the moving Breaks in the Armor. This record is a return to the darkness enjoyed on the first two Crooked Fingers albums while somehow capturing the energy and urgency of Archers of Loaf the way Red Devil Dawn couldn’t quite achieve. Additionally, the raw beauty of To the Races is present as is an improved musician in Bachman.
What I find interesting are the similarities between Breaks in Armor and Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic. Both come out and were record in the midst of reunions with the bands that made them famous. It’s easy to detect the new-found/reinvigorated energy in both. Also, the growth in songwriting and musicianship in both men is apparent. I have been impressed with Malkmus’ new insistence of actually singing. Likewise, Bachman stretches his range, often ditching the Neil Diamond bravado demonstrated on previous albums. Plus, both featured female vocals that add much to their sounds. Finally, Crooked Fingers and the Jicks feature some incredibly solid work on the bass that fills out their sound and reminds you that there are other people in these bands.
What was often missing from the Diamond dirges of other Crooked Fingers records was the power of Arechers of Loaf-era Bachman. He seems to have rediscovered an aggressive guitar playing alternate guitar tunings that made Loaf records so unique. I have to think this has a lot to do with his time on stage with his Loaf mates. While I’m glad to see Loaf touring, I am even more excited to hear Bachman rediscovering his inner-rocker in developing Crooked Fingers as a group with a future.
“Typhoon” opens steady and low, much like the early material, but one already detects the change in sound as Bachman allows some room for female vocals and plays like he did in Loaf’s later years. The second track, “Bad Blood,” is a straight-up rocker that reminds me so much of Archers of Loaf in the way Bachman plucks the strings, bending them to his will. The melody and drama reveal a more mature version of what Archers of Loaf used to be. The tone quiets with “The Hatchet,” similar to To the Races. It’s a beautiful track with subtle touches that flesh out the mood created.
This is followed by what is almost a pop song with a huge bassline featured out front. “The Counterfeiter” is a song Bachman might have dirged-to-death, but instead he lets the melody flow in creating a real head-bobber. This is maybe the most rewarding song of the album just for the fact that it breaks away from anything I’ve heard from Bachman. If there was ever an opportunity for a stripped-down Crooked Fingers track to make a crossover onto adult alternative stations, this would be it.
“Heavy Hours” regains the quiet established before and is yet another beautiful track, something Bachman had in him but rarely exploited. That quiet is broken a bit by the marching of “Black Candles” and its eerie resemblance to a Low song. “Went to the City” builds on the piano that’s been hinted at throughout, thrusting the instrument to the forefront as Bachman stretches his considerable vocal chops, singing yet another pop song.
Crooked Fingers used to depend on a steady movement with the low end all filled out while Bachman growled on. “Your Apocalypse” is a track that could have fallen into that trap had it not been for a quickening of the pace, a higher octave, and some incredibly well-crafted arrangements. Even the guitar solo is uplifting.
“War Horses” opens with a buzz and steady beat that suggest dirge, but Bachman’s soaring vocals carry the day once again. “She Tows the Line” follows in a similar manner, building on the momentum that’s been created so far. “Our New Favorite” is the bluegrass ending I didn’t expect but welcomed with open arms.
Though Breaks in the Armor doesn’t attain the same sonic levels as Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic, it is no less a triumph in its demonstration of an already-accomplished artist developing, even maturing. For me, albums like these are the albums with which I want to grow old. I don’t need Wilco and their brand of dad-rock. I need my heroes to continue their growth, recalling the glory days while building toward the future. It seems as long as musicians are still hungry to break through, they will continue to avoid complacency and grow.
Breaks in the Armor is easily the most advanced and cohesive Crooked Fingers album yet. This Bachman project quickly approaching the dad-rock equivalent of an Icky Mettle or Vee-Vee. And if this is what dad-rock is going to be, I’m okay with that.
Creature comforts are the things we turn to in order to help us feel at home or at ease. When we’re not into the game of chance that comes with experimentation, we turn to these experiences to help us feel grounded, whole, or just like ourselves.
Two recent conversations reminded me of this importance.
The first happened at a local punk show last week. I was sitting with a guy and all we could talk about was music from the nineties, especially music from southwestern Ohio where we both originated. Earlier that same day, I had listened to The Afghan Whigs’ Gentleman and Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, two all-time favorites I often turn to when nothing new suits my mood.
This music qualifies as a creature comfort. Time and time again, we turn to “comfort music” to satisfy that need to feel at home. If I’m feeling ill at ease, I’ll put on Pavement, Yo La Tengo, or Swearing at Motorists (among others). This music relaxes me or settles anxieties within. Inventions like iPods has made this easier, but I’ve always carried around at least a few old standbys just in case. Sometimes we call this being “stuck in a rut,” but I prefer to look at it as turning to old standbys for inspiration instead wasting large amounts of energy searching for the next big thing.
Like music, beer offers us comforts we shouldn’t forget. It’s Just Booze Dancing… did a review on Stone IPA and called it a “comfort beer.” A comfort beer is that beer you turn to when no other option seems tempting. You go with a comfort beer because you know it will be good.
My list of comfort beers is long. There’s Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, Boulevard Tank 7, Boulevard Single-Wide, Schlafly APA, Arrogant Bastard, or that same Stone IPA IJBD… also cited. It can depend on the context as well. I’ll go for a Two-Hearted anywhere, but I know Tank 7 is always available at one bar and Single-Wide at a burger joint I frequent. APA is everywhere. Punk and rock clubs are now featuring lots of Stone. I suppose they like the gargoyle imagery, but I’m thankful either way.
Whatever the context or beer, comfort beers are nice to find, because you know what you’re getting and with what they’ll pair best. You don’t have to worry about a beer not meeting expectations or being something you didn’t want. The comfort beer is good every time.
While these creature comforts are good for relieving our anxieties and making us feel at home, they can be limiting. If I listen to nothing but Pavement, I might miss out on something new. Ditto if I drink nothing but Two-Hearted Ale. This is where the “rut” phrase comes in. You don’t want to be stuck in a rut and never venture out beyond your comfort zone. That’s when we miss out on life.
So, the creature comforts must be used wisely. I haven’t heard a new record in weeks that I really love, but the reissue of Archers of Loaf’s Icky Mettle just arrived in the mail and I’m pretty stoked to listen to that great record again. I just had an Oberon with my dinner, another comfort beer of mine. There’s time for this, but when something new comes along, I’m ready.
It’s been a long time, my old friend. I’ve missed you very much. It seems that you’ve only had time for a few of us, so I’ll make this brief.
I saw you on the television this past week. You guys sounded great, making me yearn for those years past when we used to meet up at Stache’s (twice), the Euclid Tavern, or that shitty metal club in suburban Cincinnati. Those were some good times. You tore up tiny stages and dealt with rowdy punks. You flirted with the devil and chose the higher ground. In my mind, you were kindred spirits with those of us trying to find our way through college with our blue-collar backgrounds.
Then, you broke up sometime in the last century. At first, I was hurt, but as new projects emerged, some of that void was filled and I eventually found other music to distract me. Still, I often returned to the material from those glory days and remembered our time together with great fondness.
And as the years passed, several of your contemporaries decided to give it another try, often reaping the benefits of nostalgia. Yet, Archers of Loaf stayed away, never even hinting at a reunion. I was okay with this as I figured you all had better things to do with your time. Also, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to get in touch with my lost youth. Your slot would just have to remain empty.
Then, you did it. Without saying a word, you showed your face in your old stomping grounds. There were whispers and rumors and then a summer festival. It looked like Pavement all over again. However, this was different. I saw you before I ever saw Pavement. This was a longer time coming for sure.
As dates for your reunion were announced, I grew disheartened. The closest you would come to my home would be Chicago and that was the same weekend as anniversary of my marital union. There was no way I’d get to see you again. My dreams and hopes of us getting back together were shattered.
The strange thing is that as I watched you play for Jimmy Fallon, a peace grew within me. It became clear that you did this reunion thing right even if you didn’t come within 130 miles of my home. You didn’t record any new music in a half-assed manner just to cash in on the Loaf nostalgia. You didn’t play every summer festival or late night variety show in hopes of big money. You’re not releasing some ungettable box set on a major label. Nope. All you’ve done is play a tour much like the ones you played back when I knew you in support of the reissues of your catalog as put out by long-time friends Merge Records. That’s reuniting the right way.
So, as you wrap up this summer tour and sail off into indie rock history for the second time, feel comfortable in the fact that you did the indie rock nostalgia trip the way Baby Jesus would have wanted. I hold no ill feelings and wish all of you the best in your future endeavors.
1I don’t even know that this was true. It’s probably not a fair label, but Archers of Loaf appealed to that part of me. Many of the friends who held a similar appreciation for the band had similar backgrounds. Loaf was direct, to the point, and seemed to speak for the blue-collar ethos both lyrically and aesthetically.
2The Crooked Fingers material was very different, but once you saw the live show, you still felt that Archers of Loaf urgency.
4Weeks in fact.
5Does Jimmy Fallon even own an Archers of Loaf record? Did he know who they are/were? Maybe I’m underestimating Fallon, but I doubt it.
6Of course, judging by Arcade Fire’s sales numbers, Loaf could still reap some benefits.
Sorry. I bottled my Harnessed in Slums IPA last night instead of writing a post. The beer hit exactly where I needed it to final gravity-wise. Thursday’s New Slang Saison started bubbling late morning on Friday and has gone steadily all weekend. I’m thinking there’s enough yeast in there to get me through.
There’s one post that’s like 1/3 done (1/2 written, footnotes left to write), but I just didn’t have the energy for it. So, just gander at another Hipstamatic photo above (because I’m not a real photog with a real camera) and watch the video made especially for this beer below.
This is the third of three parts of the Archers of Loaf oeuvre. Some of these tracks have already been reviewed. So, I’ve simply marked those as already seeing BICTBAP treatment. Also, you should know that I was up until almost 1 AM this morning finishing this freaking post. Work’s been crazy, I have had very little sleep, and this one in the series took some listening and reading. So, check it and recognize.
EPs and other collections
Vs the Greatest of All Time (Alias, 1994) – Seriously. This EP has to be one of the greatest EP’s of all time. From the band of many great segues, Vs transitions from the heartbreak of Icky Mettle to the blue-collar anger of Vee Vee. Ironically, “The Greatest of All-Time” does not appear on this release.
“Audiowhore” – A&R guys, producers, agents, whoever leaches off bands, those are the audio whores. This is a running theme throughout Loaf’s material. They came up in a time when it was wondered who would be the next Nirvana. There was a time Archers of Loaf were courted by Madonna’s Maverick Records. This also marked a turn from break-up songs to railing over major labels.
“Lowest Part Is Free!” – This phrase reminds me of the “lowest common denominator,” something A&R and major labels look to hit with each new signing. The band was pretty clearly anti-major label at this point, pretty sick of the whole scene.
“Freezing Point” – Sometimes the best way to move on from a breakup is to literally move on. Doing an east coast tour, getting out of town might be the best way to get out of Dodge, or Chapel Hill. This song could have closed Icky Mettle, but it would have overshadowed even that album’s strongest tracks and would have changed the narrative drastically. It works better on this ‘tweener of an EP.
“Revenge” – Despite being an all-time, great, punk rawk stomp, “Revenge” awkwardly changes subjects from the Icky Mettle-breakup to the working class fight songs of Vee Vee. Still, like all the tracks on this EP, it stands on its own.
“All Hail the Black Market” – The band’s disgust over leaches, hangers-on, liars, jerks, whatever are called out. This song is loaded with disgust like few have ever accomplished. It’s an interesting end to a pretty charged record, particularly right before their “protest” record.
The Speed of Cattle (Alias, 1996) – Few rarities, b-side compilations are this good or this jam-packed with as many great tracks as this one. Honestly, few of these collections are released during a band’s prime like this one. Plus, there are a few new versions of some of their best songs.
“South Carolina” – A sort of call to arms with their neighbors to the south, South Carolina was part of one of the band’s earliest singles. It was the B-side to Loaf’s “Wrong” single. I discovered the band through a rehashed version of this song on the My So-Called Life soundtrack, purchased for me as a joke. This song is no joke.
“Web In Front”*
“Bathroom” – Ah, a speed-metal track about really having to go to the bathroom while driving between stops. I know this feeling as I’ve always been the one to wait until I absolutely had to go. It seems the band is just taking a piss, so to speak.
“Tatyana” – This is a narrative about a domestic violence situation, possibly both Russian immigrants (Tatyana). It’s pretty graphic and suggests its anti-abuse and not condoning it. Besides, from what I know and have learned about the band, I feel pretty safe in saying the song is anti-domestic violence.
“What Did You Expect?” – Getting all tied up in a shitty situation? What did you expect? This one’s from a Merge release. Why they could never find their way onto that label will forever escape me.
“Ethel Merman” – Bachman seems to be identifying with Ethel Merman, a huge film star and incredible talent of her time. I suspect her death brought on a death to the golden era of entertainment. Johnny Franklin possibly refers to the actor in Children of the Corn. I suppose both refer to Bachman’s insecurities and inevitable downfall. Still, it’s got a nice hook. Archers of Loaf had the following to say about the whole thing, which actually makes way more sense than what I thought:
This song is about this guy in Tallahassee, Florida who apparently lost control one day and took a sledgehammer or some re-bar to the Florida state radio station. I have no idea what Ethel Merman has to do with anything. Perhaps we had an image of all these Ethel Merman recordings getting smashed and broken apart by some angry listener.
“Funnelhead” – An epic build leads to a Bachman holler. And what is a Funnelhead? Fuck. I don’t know. It’s late. He sees beyond black and white and catches all the shit or something. I’m not even sure what Bachman’s hollering through most of it. It is a beautiful, Afghan Whigs-ish anthem, somehow. What I do know is that it’s a Treepeople cover. That alone is pretty cool.
“Quinn Beast” – According to the liner notes, this one is about a woman who stepped in front of Bachman at a Shoney’s breakfast bar and took the last plate. She eventually figured it out and was not too happy.
“Telepathic Traffic” – Long intro…Sonically, this track would have fit nicely on Vee Vee. Crushing anxiety caused by traffic, all kinds of traffic: noise, light, cars, that line of ducklings following their mother across the street, etc. There’s just too much of it.
“Don’t Believe The Good News” -“There’s a dog on this track.” It’s the end of a long night of partying. The hangover is setting in long before you pass out on the bathroom floor. Things seem generally good, but all the depressants you just shoved down your throat help you see the truth that things actually suck right now.
“Smokin’ Pot In The Hot City” – Instrumental about, well, you know.
“Mutes In The Steeple” – There are a lot of shitty things in this world. We try to make the best of it, but we can’t ignore injustice and wrong. Ironically, this is often how we know that we’re alive.
“Revenge” – ^
“Bacteria” – Seven minutes of hate and disgust. You remember all the times that person was at his/her ugliest. This feeling fuels a move, a song, a feeling you can’t deny. Really, if you ever have to hate anyone for seven minutes (possibly including yourself), listen to this song and flail about. The dynamics of this song are so intense and just incredible. I’m just glad it saw the light of day despite the difficulty the band had finding space for it on a record.
“Freezing Point” – ^
“Powerwalker” – Let’s make fun of powerwalking. You know you’ve done it. This is your theme song.
Vitus Tinnitus (Alias, 1997) – Ah, one of my prized 10″ records. Nothing too new or ground-breaking here, but it was a good find nonetheless. The first six tracks were recorded live and the last two were remixed. No explanations are needed.
“Harnessed In Slums” – **
“Underdogs Of Nipomo” -**
“Greatest Of All Time” -**
“Form and File” -***
“Vocal Shrapnel (Remix)” -***
“Scenic Pastures (Remix)” -***
Seconds Before the Accident (Alias, 2000) – This was exactly how Archers of Loaf sounded live. One can’t go wrong with this release (or the one mentioned above) when searching out live material. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was basically the same set they played when I saw them on the same tour. What a great, great live band Archers of Loaf were/are. I may have to write more about this set list or the one they recently played in Chapel Hill.
Dead Red Eyes -****
Vocal Shrapnel -***
Web In Front -*
Let The Loser Melt -**
Strangled By The Stereo Wire -***
Fashion Bleeds -****
You And Me -*
South Carolina -^
Lowest Part Is Free -^
Plumb Line -*
White Trash Heroes -****
Chumming The Oceans -***
Wrong/South Carolina (Stay Free, 1992) -*^
Web in Front/Bathroom/Tatyana (Alias, 1993) -*^
The Results After the Loafs Revenge: What Did You Expect/Ethel Merman (Merge, 1994) -^
Funnelhead/Quinnbeast split with Treepeople, (Sonic Bubblegum, 1994) -^
Harnessed in Slums/ Telepathic Traffic (Alias, 1995) -**^
Mutes in the Steeple/Smoking Pot in the Hot City (Esther, 1995) -^
Vocal Shrapnel/Density (Alias, 1996) -*** -I don’t think I wrote about this one. It’s available on this 7″ and the vinyl version of All Nations Airports, of which I actually have a picture disc. Anyway, it’s synth-heavy and sounds like an old TV show theme song. It fits nicely thematically-speaking with “Audiowhore” or “Telepathic” and some of the marching-like tracks on Vee Vee, but I’m not sure where it really fits in this oeuvre.
Jive Kata (Alias, 1997) -One of the most unique and oddest of the Loaf oevre, I always forget that this song exists. Hell, I forgot that I own this record. It’s so different from anything they ever did, but I remember appreciating how much it reminded me of Brainiac – another post for another time. There’s a hint as to what their final album would be like, but this track is even light years away from that. The b-side is a live version of “Slow Worm” from the same set that brought us Vitus.
As always, let me know where I’m right and where I missed the mark. I liked doing this. It was easier and quicker than my attempt at a Pavement oeuvre blog (which I may still salvage one of these days). Comments are welcome. Free beer and records are welcomerest.
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.
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.
“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…
This isn’t breaking news, but all signs point to an Archers of Loaf reunion. First, there was the surprise show the band did a few weeks ago. Then, came the information that Archers of Loaf are playing Sasquatch. A full-on reunion tour is inevitable at this point.
In case you missed the surprise reunion show in Carrboro, NC almost a month ago, there’s media out there to digest. You can watch basically the entire set on mumblepop’s YouTube channel. For those who want the audio, check Willfully Obscure‘s post.
Why would Archers of Loaf reunite?
Well, first you have to understand who the band was. AoL was the quintessential indie band of the early-to-mid-nineties not named Pavement or Superchunk. Like Superchunk, Loaf hailed from Chapel Hill. Unlike either of those bands, Archers of Loaf rawked with reckless abandon, pummeling their audiences into submission. Their songs were often as clever or heartfelt as any indie band, but they had a blue-collar, ruffian angle few could pull off in the underground. They were absolutely one of the most dynamic live acts of the era as they shredded and beat their way through set lists. An Archers of Loaf show is one of the most intense rock experiences one could ever have.
The band nearly broke through with their college radio hit “Web in Front,” but it was not meant to be. They toured as much as any band in that time. I felt lucky to have seen them as often as I did, almost always in a shitty little club. During the nineties, the band released four full-length records, a rarities compilation, a live album, a couple EP’s, and numerous singles.
A band’s worth, especially as far as nineties indie rock goes, is often measured on the influence they had on the scene. I have stories of Lee Renaldo sneaking underage kids into a Loaf show. I’ve read Conor Oberst drop them as a major influence. They have the new and old of indie covered. They are still a uniter of a band when they’re brought up in conversation.
Unfortunately, the band didn’t make it out of the nineties, a decade they helped define in underground/indie music. Frontman Eric Bachman moved on to his side-projects including Barry Black and the nearly as successful Crooked Fingers. They have been missed and no one has yet to fill the gaping hole left in their absence.
That is, until now.
With the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, and others getting back together for another go, it only seemed logical that Loaf would join them on the indie reunion circuit. There’s money to be made there. I don’t blame them. All the kids who followed them in the nineties now have real jobs and can afford to see them for five or six times what they used to pay. And we’ll gladly pay.
The question is no longer if Archers of Loaf will play again. The new thing to ponder is when they’ll play and how often. Plus, I have to wonder if they will come to Missouri, certainly not a high priority for a band that might just do the summer festival circuit. However, I sort of suspect this will be an old-school Loaf tour and there’s a chance the band stops in either Kansas City, Columbia, or St. Louis. I’ve seen most of my heroes – white trash or otherwise – on their reunion stints, I certainly don’t want to miss this one.
1That’s not what I do here. Obviously.
2I often see these three as the triumvirate of nineties indie rock and I’d challenge anyone to contradict that assertion.
3There was a time when everyone was looking for the next Seattle. Chapel Hill was the leading candidate for a while. Oh, and so was Austin, Columbus, Dayton, Athens, Portland, etc.
4And at the end of every song, bassist Matt Gentling would graciously grunt “thanks” when he wasn’t filling the void with drunken witticism.
5Two years in a row, I saw them play the now-defunct-Stache’s, a gig and all-night drive to Cleveland’s Euclid Tavern, and a final show in some shitty metal bar in Cincinnati.
61993’s Icky Mettle is easily one of the 5-10 most essential indie rock records of the decade.
7Instant credibility is thrust upon your band when members of Sonic Youth travel to your hometown to see you. A friend of a friend met Renaldo outside the club only to find that he was too young to gain entrance. Renaldo searched him out and let the kid use his ID. It didn’t work as the kid guessed the wrong year of birth, but Lee got him in anyway.
8I sometimes imagine state and county fairs being taken over by hipsters and artists. Old indie bands would play the grandstands and we’d all have a grand old time.
9STL has a newish end-of-summer thing, but we are devoid of summer festivals for the most part. My hope is that they’ll play a proper club tour with a stop or two or three in the Show-Me State.