Album Review: Icky Mettle [Deluxe Edition] by Archers of Loaf
Fantastic, Based on 9 Critics
The Guardian - 100 Based on rating 5/5
North Carolina was one of the hottest of hotspots for melody-rich, fuzz-smothered indie-rock in the early 90s, and after the glorious return of local powerpop heroes Superchunk in 2010, it's an equal joy to find their slightly wonkier, fiddlier neighbours Archers of Loaf back in action, too. This deluxe reissue of their 1993 debut album (with the other three to follow in 2012) throws in some great EP and singles tracks, and is a particular must-hear for anyone caught up in the recent revival of interest in the era. The appeals here are many: the tumbling, tangling inventiveness of Eric Bachmann and Eric Johnson's guitar interplay; the neat switches from full-steam pop thrashings to peculiar, melancholy mini-epics; the sheer pleasure of hook after oddball hook.
Icky Mettle, the debut album from seminal Chapel Hill indie-rockers Archers of Loaf, did not need to be re-released. When remastering it, it sounds like Bob Weston took a laissez-faire approach, retaining the murky tinge of Caleb Southern’s original production job while maybe decreasing the high end a little bit. The songs that appear on Disc two of the reissue originally populated most of the band’s The Speed Of Cattle b-sides compilation, in addition to the still-available-on-10” concept EP Vs.
Archers of Loaf were the last of the great Nineties bands to reunite, which makes sense. Ambivalence was the engine of their glorious slacker racket: "With all of my might, I do this/It's a waste of my time to pursue this," Eric Bachmann yowled on their 1993 debut, Icky Mettle. The no-frills North Carolinians were nobody's glamour boys (they made Superchunk look like TLC), but they perfected the genre moves: bracing attack, two-guitar blurs of dissonance and beauty, a sympathetic barker wringing emotion from lyrics about the insular rock scene and girls who stalked it.
“There’s a chance it might get weird, yeah it’s a possibility.” That’s Eric Bachmann singing on the first song on the first side of Archers of Loaf’s first album, Icky Mettle. Nearly two decades after they were committed to tape, those lines have proved supremely prescient, neatly summing up the North Carolina indie band’s career—or lack thereof. With only a few singles under their collective belt, the quartet signed with Alias Records in 1994, then spent the ensuing five years working, writing and touring as hard as any of their peers.
Archers of Loaf tend to not get the recognition that they deserve as one of the trailblazing indie alternative rock bands of the ‘90s. They don’t have the slackness of playing and the wry, ironic (and sometimes downright sarcastic) lyrics of Pavement—which, for some strange reason, they get compared to a lot. They didn’t have the lo-fi, intimate aesthetic of Sebadoh or Guided by Voices.
No single trend in 1990s indie rock can be traced back to Archers of Loaf. They weren't quite "lo-fi," they weren't quite "slackers," their guitars weren't quite "noisy" and their drums weren't quite "mathy." Eric Bachmann's vocals were gritty and visceral, but his lyrics were oblique and cerebral. Archers of Loaf thrived on subtle contradictions, on purposeful vagaries, on tentative gestures delivered with utmost conviction.
Modern music has always mimicked what has come before it, in some way, and like any attempt at saluting or even blatantly rehashing the greatness of yore, it’s incredibly difficult - if not impossible - to capture that unique feeling that can only come from being ‘of the time’. However, with the power of the reissue, the too-young or those who simply let a band slip through their fingers before and are hungry for the real deal can get as close a picture of a particular part of musical history as is physically possible. There is, of course, some romanticism in leaving things be, having things be a document of the time they were created, but sometimes you want to polish these things up and display them for everyone to see, and sometimes, it really fucking works.
History is important. It shows us where things come from, and lets us trace how they got to be the way they are today. When it comes to music, history is especially important, as every moment can be drawn back, contextualized to every release before it. For indie music, one of the important milestones comes in the form of Archers of Loaf, a rock band who came together in 1990 and broke up in 1998.
Reunited since January, Chapel Hill, N.C., quartet Archers of Loaf unleashed this first of four LPs well in stride of the band's original tear (1990-1998). Raw as oysters on the half shell, with abrasive, transistor radio production, 1993's Icky Mettle thumps Warp's warpath between lo-fi sad sackery ("You and Me") and shitstorm post-post punk ("Sick File"). The Archers of Loaf vs.