Archers of Loaf deserved to be huge. And the fact that they never really broke big only makes their raucous, rough-edged music even more potent and endearing. The Chapel Hill, North Carolina quartet simply found themselves on the wrong coast from the fuzzed-out din of the Pacific Northwest during the ’90s. And while grunge got nearly all of the attention, Archers were the scruffy underdogs who consistently (and unfairly) flew too low under the radar to ever find a wider audience; but somehow still managed to churn out a strong collection of indelible records before they called it quits in 1998.
Their stellar second album, Vee Vee, has just been given the remaster/reissue treatment by Merge Records (as was their excellent debut, Icky Mettle, late last year), and hopefully this fresh repackaging of these bold collections of songs, along with their recent reunion shows, will go a long way towards carving a bigger, more deserved chunk of real estate for the band in the jagged musical landscape of the last twenty years. Just be sure to stick to the crisp-sounding remastering of Vee Vee and ignore the inessential second disc of mostly throwaway b-sides and unlistenable demos, and you’re bound to be convinced – either again or for the very first time – of the lasting power found within these incendiary songs.
After the untamed urgency of their first record, the band took their time recording the follow-up (releasing a fiery EP in the two years in between LPs), which gave the new batch of songs that would make up Vee Vee a studied cogency without losing any of the riotous, unrestrained spirit which coloured their earlier material. But throughout the record there is a constant tug of war between the band reaching for the stars and resigning themselves to the gutter.
Even just looking at the song titles clues you in to the inner struggle within the band, between aiming for success and ending up on skid row; for every ‘Step Into The Light’ there is a corresponding ‘Harnessed In Slums’, and for each ‘Greatest Of All Time’ there is an equivalent ‘Let The Loser Melt’. You get the sense that Archers dreamed of (and clearly wanted) success, but were prepared for (even expected) it never to happen.
But the legacy or inherent goals of the group aren’t nearly as important as the songs themselves; and these turbulent, sensational numbers speak volumes both of the overall quality of frontman Eric Bachmann’s inventive songwriting and the blind negligence of most of the music world for criminally ignoring this band at the time.
The relatively tranquil opening track ‘Step Into The Light’ has plenty of stylistic similarities to Pavement’s ‘We Dance’, which would quietly kick off their feted (and similarly titled) Wowee Zowee just one short month after Vee Vee‘s original release. Both proved in their own way to be the calm before the eventual storm, and from the moment that Archers Of Loaf kick into the slacker anthem ‘Harnessed In Slums’ they don’t really lift their foot from the gas again for the rest of the album.
One churning, fitful track rolls by right after another, all laced with a youthful energy and cocksure conviction, tempered with an artist’s pessimistic negativity. It proved to be a lethal and highly effective combination, as ‘Nevermind The Enemy’, ‘Floating Friends’, ‘Fabricoh’, and ‘Nostalgia’ all bristle with freshness, originality and a relentless fighting spirit which puts most of what was happening in Seattle at the time to shame.
By the time the band gets to the oddly celebratory, circus-like melody of the closing track ‘Underachievers March And Fight Song’, with Bachmann grousing, “Doomed to fall, smashing their evil empire up against the wall”, you get the sense that the band isn’t quite sure what they are fighting for or against any more, or whether or not they even care if they win. But in the chorus Bachmann reminds you “Underachievers, attack at your leisure/Hoist up your guitars and make them all believers”.
And we underdogs and layabouts back in the day, who were on the couch listening intently, with nothing but rock ‘n’ roll finding its way through the haze of pot smoke and indecision, all had no choice but to trust that those rousing, unifying sentiments were indeed true. They still are, in fact.