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Archers of Loaf: Reason in Decline

The Chapel Hill veterans return with their first LP in 24 years.

“You’ve got it all wrong” shouted Eric Bachmann during Archers of Loaf’s 2011 performance on Jimmy Fallon. To be honest, live television performances are usually lame. Even the infamous Future Islands performance that was dubbed one of the greatest ever. Sorry, but no, it was like most of them: insipid bordering on cringe-worthy.

The same can’t be levelled at the Archers of Loaf performance. It was actually good. And the band’s subsequent reunion tour followed suit, as songs from landmark records, Icky Mettle and Vee Vee, sounded as fresh as ever. It was like a band frozen in time.

Following the tour, years went by and other than releasing several singles in 2020, there was little to suggest that Archers of Loaf would go on to release a comeback LP. After all, Eric Bachmann has been on a fantastic run of form with his recent solo offerings, so earlier this year when the announcement of a new Archers of Loaf record surfaced, it came as a surprise.

Their first full-length release since 1998’s White Trash Heroes, Reason in Decline is comfort blanket Archers. The days of the marauding alt-rock beast that gave us Toast and Harnessed in Slums, merely nostalgic blur. This is Indian summer Archers of Loaf and it’s no bad thing. A band growing old graciously yet capturing new ideas that catch alight.

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If anything, Reason in Decline occupies the space between the Archers of old and Bachmann’s last two solo albums, 2016’s self-titled and 2018’s No Recover; both of which were among the finest albums in the respective years they were released.

This is no reunion of defiance. While Archers of Loaf were lumped in with the slackers, in truth they blurred the lines, drawing from post-hardcore and the origins of indie-rock to dispense the kind of lyrical vignettes that were far darker than anything of the slacker ilk. Throughout Reason in Decline, you get the feeling Bachmann couldn’t have delivered some of these songs without Matt Gentling, Eric Johnson and Mark Price. High-wire moments that needed to be addressed as a unit to maximise their effect.

Depression and substance abuse have always been necessary go-to themes for Bachmann. Always revelling in that darkness, on opening track Human, he adds new shades to it. With bouncing pianos and ringing guitars, he delivers one of his most morose songs yet (“It’s hard to be human/Only death can set you free” and “You fell on hard times cold and hostile/ Cocaine all caked around your nostrils”).

Archers of Loaf: Reason in Decline

Despite the sun-filled soundscapes, there’s no room for optimism on following track, Saturation and Light, either (“Spend your days in a ruin/Nobody helping you” and “Drowning in the hard times/clinging to the power lines”).

On Screaming Undercover and Breaking Even, there are slight echoes of the Archers of old – grizzled numbers that hit with immediate force, underpinned by a staple bass chug courtesy of Bob Weston’s antics from behind the mastering desk.

Then there’s Aimee. The kind of piercing ballad Bachmann has been writing during his last two records, (“I don’t mind if we can find our way out of here”). It’s a beautiful bridge track for the second half of Reason in Decline.

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Starting with the sonic tremor of In the Surface Noise. With an ambiguous series of questions to untangle, it could construed as putting the current social media landscape under the hammer. (“Teenage infidels/ Forming rebel cells/ Swarming outside your room”). And on the rumbling majesty of Misinformation Age, it feels like another call to arms on the state of meta data and click-bait media, conspiring to manipulate and obfuscate. “See the blood on the floor where the money is made” shouts Bachmann.

Like Aimee, War is Wide Open is another piano-led ballad, and it closes the album in stunning fashion. With Eric Bachmann and No Recover, the Archers of Loaf leader has developed a habit of finishing albums strong and it’s no different here. A poignant, trance-like concern that is up there with the finest closing songs committed to tape this year. Really, it’s a song that wets the corners of the eyes with the kind of snapshots that split the heart in two (“The days grow cold as you wave goodbye”).

While many Archers of Loaf devotees perhaps expected something more aligned to the band’s visceral and slightly unhinged past, that’s not what reformations should be about. It’s about developing new ideas and moving with time, and on Reason in Decline, Archers of Loaf have done both to great effect. It’s great to have them back.

Reason in Decline is out now via Merge Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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