Archers of Loaf | Reason in Decline (Merge Records)

Photo of Archers of Loaf by Kate Fix

John was impatience personified. It was the year 1995. He took the bullet time machine to 2022 Vegas and went to the closest record store to purchase every Superchunk record released after Here’s Where the Strings Come In. While in line to purchase his items, he noticed an Archers of Loaf record on an end cap. REASON IN DECLINE adorned its nondescript cover. “Huh. I wonder what that’s about.” He added it to the pile. And since they say good things comes in three, he picked up a couple of Polvo discs from the new millennium. That way he completed the Chapel Hill indie trifecta. He paid for his items and took the train back to 1995. That stuff about only time traveling bare-ass naked was hogwash. Anything and everything could pass. He went back to his apartment, he put the Archers disc in the CD player and pressed PLAY. Ten songs later, he took the disc out and snorted dismissively. He took the CD booklet and scribbled ARCHERS OF MEAT LOAF, BILLY JOEL BACHMANN, ERIC BACHMANN AND THE HEARTBREAKERS and ARCHERS OF SPRINGTEEN on the back side. He tossed in a cardboard box, smiled, and thought “Aren’t I clever.”

Recently, an online music forum posed the question on whether a band’s early work usually ends up best being the most liked. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a consensus. A common example was: Does poppier, faster or heavier = BETTER or does a band’s later works (where musicianship and songwriting are literally BETTER) win the day. For me, the latter was true of Archers of Loaf. Nothing against White Trash Heroes and All the Nations Airports, but their first two LPs and the Archers of Loaf vs The Greatest Of All Time EP were the only works that I continue to enjoy.

In 1998, Archers of Loaf broke up. Drummer Mark Price developed carpal tunnel, their commercial success potential still hadn’t panned out, vocalist/guitarist Eric Bachmann desired to “try a different musical approach,” and they were just burnt. After the break-up, it was Bachmann who had the most prominent musical life. Most notably, he fronted Crooked Fingers, who released six LPs through 2011, and to this date he has also released five solo LPs. While Archers of Loaf never released any records on the Chapel Hill, NC imprint Merge Records (until their 2011 reissues) when they all lived and went to school there, Crooked Fingers and Bachmann released multiple releases on the label through the years. So, the fact that Reason in Decline ison the record label that many thought they were always on feels appropriate.

As is the case for most people twenty years after college, writing new college songs presented a small roadblock. He was not the same “angry white curmudgeon college guy” as before and trying to write songs with that mentality proved difficult. “I just wasn’t excited about re-energizing it. But if I don’t have a position or point of view to start from, I can’t get out of the gate,” Bachmann said. Eventually new material saw the light of day with the Raleigh Days 7” and Talking Over Talk b/w Cruel Reminder single.

Then came the pandemic. Always with the pandemic. While most people were able to work from home, for Bachmann that was an impossibility. It was especially difficult and draining emotionally. “I’m 51, I’ve been [writing and playing music] since I was 14. I’ve been doing it for a living since I was 22, that’s 37 years. For the first time, when COVID happened, I couldn’t do it. All that was taken away and it was a massive psychological setback.” And if that wasn’t enough, Bachmann had to learn to walk sing again. Throat surgery meant he had to now sing from his diaphragm, which meant he had to ditch all that yelling. He had a new voice, both literally and figuratively.

As should be expected for a college rock band who releases music 25 years later, the music of Archers of Loaf v2.0 on Reason In Decline is a departure from the past, even more so than the tracks on their post-reunion singles of 2019-2020. Only “Cruel Reminder” sounded like an Archers of Loaf song. With Reason, any references to Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and any other staples of ‘70s and ‘80s AOR radio are kind of snarky, but they’re also a bit accurate. In 1995, Archers of Loaf played the basement of Cicero’s, a venue where if performers weren’t careful could find their heads banking off a ceiling support beam. Bachmann is listed at 6’4”. This was a possibility. But those low ceilings also really fit music by AOL in their first go around. Reason In Decline is quite the opposite. These songs feel wide open and are much more expansive in scope and feel. “Saturation and Light,” “In the Surface Noise,” “In the Surface Noise,” “Breaking Even,” and “Misinformation Age” are very much stadium and hockey arena compatible. And that’s not a knock. For “Age” it’s a major transformation, as it was originally released as gentle, piano-centric number. On the album opener, “Humans,” it’s piano that’s the most theatrical element. So much so that Bachmann jokingly drew a picture of him sitting there “wearing a cape and there’s a candelabra on the piano.” The album also has quiet moments (“Aimee”) that split up the record and a closer (“War Is Wide Open”) that is an early betting favorite to close out their live set or the encore from their upcoming January 2023 show at Delmar Hall.

If you were to strip away all identifiers on this record that label it as Archers of Loaf and listen to it cold, this is a great album, unburdened by memories of music that was made by the band when they were in their twenties. Bachmann has said that one of the initial barriers of writing new Archers of Loaf music was because he was no longer like the guy who the wrote the songs back in the day. Simply put, “that guy eventually went away.” As it should be. You can’t fake 1995 in the year 2022. It would be glaringly obvious. Not lying when I say Reason in Decline would have been an album that I tossed in the garbage after one listen in the mid-‘90s. That’s the thing about time. Something that you would mock and snort at in 1995 can end up being something you play on repeat if given enough time. | David Lichius

Archers of Loaf Tour Dates:

11.29.22 – Ottobar – Baltimore, MD

11.30.22 – Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA

12.01.22 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA

12.02.22 – Warsaw – Brooklyn, NY

12.03.22 – The Broadberry – Richmond, VA

12.04.22 – Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC

01.10.23 – Thunderbird Music Hall – Pittsburgh, PA

01.11.23 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, ON

01.12.23 – El Club – Detroit, MI

01.13.23 – The Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL

01.14.23 – Delmar Hall – St. Louis, MO

01.15.23 – Basement East – Nashville, TN

02.07.23 – Teragram Ballroom – Los Angeles, CA

02.08.23 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA

02.10.23 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR

02.11.23 – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR

02.12.23 – Neumos – Seattle, WA

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