As sculpted shards of guitar—tumbling, tolling, squalling— shower the jittery bounce of a piano on opener “Human,” it’s obvious that Reason in Decline, Archers of Loaf’s first album in 24 years, will be more than a nostalgic, low-impact reboot. When they emerged from North Carolina’s ’90s indie-punk incubator, the Archers’ hurtling, sly, gloriously dissonant roar was a mythologized touchstone of slacker-era refusal. But this, the distilled shudder of “Human” (as in “It’s hard to be human / When only death can set you free”), is an entirely different noise. In fact, it’s a startling revelation.
A few distinctions between 2022 Archers and the Clinton-era crew—whose “South Carolina” could be heard blaring out of Jordan Catalano’s car radio on ABC teen-angst epic My So- Called Life. First, guitarists Eric Bachmann and Eric Johnson, once headstrong smartasses inciting a series of artful pileups on the band’s four studio albums and EP, are now a fluidly complementary, sonically advanced unit. Notably, Johnson’s signature trebly lines peal clearly above the din instead of struggling to be heard. Second, singer-songwriter Bachmann, after throat surgery, relearned how to sing (this time from his diaphragm); as a result, he no longer howls like the angriest head cold on the Eastern Seaboard. And now, his lyrics balance righteous wrath with a complex tangle of adult perspective. He still spits bile, but it’s less likely to concern scene politics, music trends, or shady record labels thwarting the dreams of a young rock band.
Bachmann puts it bluntly: “What I really think about going back to the Archers and doing a new record is that the three other members of this band are awesome. It’s not about
responding to the past or whatever our bullshit legacy is. I just wanted to work with these guys because I knew the chemistry we had and that we still have. I knew that was rare. I didn’t care what it ended up sounding like.”
Archers of Loaf’s first tour of duty ended after 1998’s White Trash Heroes. The album did not raise the band’s once touted commercial roof, and the members—Bachmann, Johnson, bassist Matt Gentling, and drummer Mark Price—were a bedraggled bunch of coulda-beens. Price was unable to play without extreme pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome. Bachmann itched to try a different musical approach. Everyone was tapped out in one way or another. Though the four remained good friends and convened for occasional reunion gigs (to support Merge’s 2011–12 album reissues, for instance), they never worked on new music. Gentling had joined Band of Horses; Johnson, now a criminal defense attorney in Asheville, North Carolina, contributed guitar to projects when he had the time. On his own, Bachmann thrived, releasing 11 albums of atmospheric, folky rock/pop under his own name or “group” moniker Crooked Fingers. In recent years, he’d toured as a sideman/foil for torch-country star Neko Case.
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