This is not my first lap around the oeuvre track. I once attempted to write a post for every Pavement track on a single blog dedicated to the Pavement oeuvre. I’m considering starting this up again, but that’s another 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 Jicks. This is part 1 of a series in which I hope to break down every SM track post-Pavement.
I have no idea what that mess in the beginning: a tribal call of a new era, perhaps. Whatever. This was a clear break from Pavement and a typically lazy stroll of a song for Malkmus to make in the first track of his first venture outside the previously mentioned indie legends. Anyway, the “black book” of which SM is referring seems to be the Bible – literally or metaphorically. By calling the black book “perminently-diversified”, he seems to be addressing the commodified nature of the Bible and possibly the Christian religion in general. Could it be considered a prediction of the hipster Christian megachurch future? Who knows. Either way, it’s a fairly serious song with that familiar, Pavement-esque, lazy hook and feedback flourishes with sloppy layering.
If you lived in Alaska, you would have fantasies about far away, tropical regions as well. Still, the protagonist stays in his winter wonderland where the temperature reaches 99 below and he spends his time fishing through a hole in the ice. Someone – I suspect someone native to the land, maybe an Eskimo – tries to talk his friend out of a move to the tropics. Still, fantasies persist. (Interesting side note is that this song was used for a Sears commercial. I tried to find video proof, but you’ll just have to trust me.)
“Jo Jo’s Jacket”
A track of Yul Brynner talking about the freedom enjoyed from shaving his head opens “Jp Jo’s Jacket” perfectly as Malk goes into a Brynner-inpired soliloquy about his role in Westworld as a robotic cowboy. From there, it gets fairly absurd, including crap house music, a Christmas-y innuendo, and a Dylan quote. It’s a fairly Crooked Rain-era track that made for a good single in true Pavement fashion. The line about being his candy cane hints at a sexual advance, a theme that pops up now and again in SM’s solo/Jicks work now and again. The Dylan quote and the following bit reminds us not to take any of this too seriously. In the end, it’s just a
Pavement Stephen Malkmus song about Yul Brynner.
“Church on White”
“Church…” is the first track that just reminds me of Terror Twilight/Brighten the Corners era Pavement. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, Pavement. Anyway, this song for me is Malk’s memoir. He was the spokesman for a generation (or at least the white, male, educated portion of said generation and not exactly by his choosing) and all we ever wanted from him was that he stayed true to form. Whether he sings “I only poured you half a line/life/lie” doesn’t really matter. He admits to only giving so much whether it was a half-finished lyric, a small piece of himself, or a partial deception. Whatever. He’s given a lot. It’s a marathon and not a spring, but I feel as though I’m digressing…
One of two narrative songs on the album – a totally welcomed aspect of Malkmus’ new direction. As it turns out, the dude can spin some yarn. This particular story is about his adventures as a pirate. No one should over think this one. It’s a pirate tale and not some allegory for his time with Pavement or some commentary on class. He’s kidnapped by some pirates and eventually becomes one of them, to the point that he is their leader. It’s just a fun, fun song.
Discretion happens after hours in an anonymous locale. You sneak around like French freedom fighters in World II, fighting for a sort of freedom not everyone needs to know about, an affair, perhaps?
We don’t find trouble; it finds us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, entropy happens and people are messy. Hell, we can’t even spell “trouble” correctly.
This one feels like another Terror Twilight leftover. Continuing Malk’s interest in history, he tells the story of Mortimer Durand and the line he drew between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I almost wish he had titled the song “The Great Game” as this was the term that described the conflict between Great Britain and Russia fighting for supremacy in central Asia. I don’t know my history well enough to tell you everything, but it’s interesting how the lasting effects of this conflict still remain. Also, the lines “Tension grows in Afghanistan / Carbine bullets could settle the score / I had a crap gin tonic it wounded me / Send my way off on one” are pretty great. It causes me to wonder about Durand’s experience and whether or not he succumbed to the pressure accumulating in the region. (Also, is it “carbine bullets” or “car-Bible-ets”? I always sing it as the latter which is way more interesting and may not be that far off.)
An expertly described scene of a locale where Trojans once prevailed… Now, it’s a hotspot for vacationing Swedes and the like. At moments I’m sure it retains the majesty it once held when Troy was on top at certain times of the day. Once again, Malkmus is able to write a fairly straightforward song that simply describes a nice moment in time and the centuries of history that can overtake you when standing on historic ground.
Ever been in a relationship where you kinda get off by calling the whole thing…er…off? Well, I haven’t. I imagine this as one of those love-hate relationships where making up after regular fights is more fulfilling than being nice to one another. Some relationships need to blow up just to find the spark. They exist in a vague space where relationships rarely flourish except when the threat of ending it is always there.
“Jenny and the Ess-Dog”
The second narrative track of the record is a classic. “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” is your basic May-December romance that fizzles once the younger member of the couple out-grows her companion. In this case, Jenny goes off to college, does well, joins a sorority, and does what we’re supposed to do. Her boyfriend the Ess-Dog is an old hippy-type. His life isn’t going anywhere and Jenny’s move to college makes the distance between them and their years too much to overcome.
Yet another post-Terror track with that same lazy easiness which has allowed the final Pavement record to fair well over time. Something about this song reminds me about “Ann Don’t Cry“- maybe the chorus? I don’t know what the song is about. It could be about a slow road trip to Vegas for an impromptu wedding that takes a week to happen. There’s only one appealing person in a room of old people, possibly at a wedding or wake. A prom scene with full-on 80’s feathered hair… It doesn’t matter. It’s a sleepy way to end Stephen Malkmus’ first post-Pavement endeavor.
“Water and a Seat”
Pig Lib is the beginning of Malkmus and his Jicks playing around with some bluesy yet edgy jamband ish. From the beginning riffs, you get the sense that Malkmus doesn’t care and has no interest in making this Pavement, Part Deux. And what better way to invite this new era than with a song inviting the madness the way “Water and a Seat” does? The listener is now prepared for what’s about to occur…
“Ramp of Death”
Jazzy slacker rock takes over with what seems to be a pleasant pop moment in the form of a chorus… Just as SM has embraced this new leap into a new chapter in his career, he’s encouraging his listeners to do the same. I was in my mid- or upper-20’s when Pig Lib came out and it was time to move forward into adulthood. I took this record with me.
“(Do Not Feed the) Oyster”
Despite Pig‘s departure from his Pavement past – now a full album removed – this song does the mellow jazz docents right, mixing this newfound infatuation with blues-inspired jammy-ness and art house aesthetic. Lyrically, it’s a mess trying to cling to a theme that only loosely holds the song together. Still, that’s how we like it. What does it mean to not feed the oysters? Fuck if I know. It’s just a nice song to jam to. Amirite? Somehow it all concludes with a mail-order bride. Why not?
“Vanessa from Queens”
Bob Packwood was a Republican Senator from Oregon who was eventually forced out thanks to some sexual harassment and assault. Bob was dirty old man which explains so much about this track. One of the best lines ever has to be “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes.”
“Sheets” (Sorry, there’s no Youtube video for this one for some reason.)
Sexy Stephen Malkmus makes another appearance in “Sheets” and the instrumentation wreaks of two people going at it over and over again. For me, the song is about getting into a club or party, just getting through the coolness gates or whatever.
It is rumored that this song is about Steve Kannberg. I’ll go with that. Spiral Stairs – like most Pavement members – seemed to not be nearly as serious as Malkmus. SM tried to push that band as far as he could and they just dragged their feet. The band was great for so many reasons, but as I’ve written over and over, it always felt as if Malk had outgrown the band. Sure, in this context, the song comes off as cold, but that’s just how it’s played out.
And now for a complete departure in the form of some New Wave, something you won’t see coming at this point in the catalog. I feel as if this song is about Miami Vice for no other reason than that’s just what it sounds like: ocean-lined highways, neon suits, fast livin’, cocaine, etc. You know, Miami Vice things.
“Witch Mountain Bridge”
I do love the Led Zeppelin-like, medievalist narrative. I get the sense that Malkmus is playing a bit with genre and aesthetic, much like the rest of the album. What really brings the Game of Thrones storytelling together is the extended jam at the end. I catch a lot of flack for liking Malkmus’ music while simultaneously hating Phish and their ilk, but songs like this hit just the right notes – all of them.
Want to demonstrate what Stephen Malkmus can do lyrically and vocally, point your friends to this track. Not only is it another narrative – a positive development over SM’s solo career – but this track actually captures some fantastic word play. First, there’s the love triangle (or is it a square) where one unrequited love is followed by another. The gem in the first verse is “he couldn’t commit to the mental jujitsu of switchin his hitting / from ladies to men.” The next verse finds two of the left-out lovers commiserating over dinner, wrapped up nicely with another great line – full of heart and humor: “they want to stay confined within the fortress of this day / stick that in your craw…check it out…” Yeah, he snuck in “crotch.” It’s one of the sweetest song in all of Malkmus’ oeuvre from Pavement on.
“1% of One”
The blues fest continues… I read somewhere that this song is about the Dutchman Remko Schouten, the sound engineer for Pavement. Much like his debut, it’s pretty straightforward: “Blind son man from Netherlands, he knew not what bands he mixed / They sounded a bit like a Zephyr and a bit like the Jicks.”
The Grateful Dead thing that is hinted at throughout this record comes to fruition in the final song, “Us.” At moments, it reminds me a ton of Loose Fur, the side project featuring Wilco members Jeff Tweedy and Glenn Kotche, and Wilco collaborator Jim O’Rourke. It’s almost the Jicks theme song. I can’t remember how many of this incarnation stayed on, but it felt like they were writing their tour bio in the form of a jam. Lyrics are written to fit the space between extended jams that groove on and on. The song only clocks in at just over four minutes, but you kinda want them to play it out and see where it goes.
This is the poppier counter to “Dark Wave” which paints a picture of high school days in the early 80’s. This song is dedicated to 80’s jangly guitars and John Hughes movies. Also, this was cute.
“Fractions & Feelings”
This song with the previous one and maybe “Dark Wave” are a bit of an 80’s trilogy. I can only imagine SM was studying his old yearbooks and zines while writing these songs. This is the weakest of the bunch, but it’s fun. (Later, “Lariat” joins the group but with much more sophistication in its message.)
And back to the Grateful Dead. I deny the connection all the time to my wife, but it’s there – literally and between the lines. Aesthetically, I can’t think of another song like this in the catalog. There are the ever-Malkmus lyrical twists, but it has a danceable groove that’s almost conventional pop. Almost.
“The Poet and the Witch” (live)
I only know of a live recording of this track. It hints at the direction Malkmus was heading, but I’ll save that discussion for the next post. Either way, this song is closely related to “Witch Mountain Bridge” in its attempt to connect with a flower child past with Led Zeppelin theatrics, or something. It’s fun and seems like a fun song to hear live.
“Shake It Around” (live)
This is a real rocker and I’m not sure it’s about much of anything aside from rocking. Our mundane lives need shaking now and again and tracks like this do the trick.
That’s the first installment in the series. I hope to get the other albums covered in coming weeks. It’s already been tough to get blog posts out there these days. It’s way past my bedtime and I have…well, actually, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks tomorrow night (or is that now tonight?). Anyway, you can catch some of my thoughts as shared by an actual journalist here. In the meantime, stay tuned for the rest of the series.
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…