Before mp3s, we used to buy these things called seven-inches, small disks of vinyl, usually played at 45rpm, usually offering an a-side with the band or singer’s single, and backed with (b/w) a b-side offering a song (or songs!) that probably wouldn’t be on the album. A lot of times, 7″s would consist of songs that wouldn’t be on any album. Or that would be it for the band—just the one 7″. I bought many, many of these little disks between 1992 and 1999, and I still have three boxes full of them gathering dust in a utility room.
Anyway, new feature: I’ll pull out one each Sunday, listen to it, photograph it, share some thoughts on it, etc.
For this week, I pulled out the closest box and then pulled out the first 7″ in the stack: Archers of Loaf’s 1995 single for “Harnessed in Slums,” b/w “Telepathic Traffic.”
“Harnessed in Slums” is the second track from the band’s second album, 1996’s album Vee Vee.
Vee Vee came out shortly after the 1995 EP Vs. the Greatest of All Time, which I think might be the Archers’ best work—or at least, that’s how I remember it. Anyway, I loved this early arc of the band’s career, which kicked off with Icky Mettle, a basically perfect glob of nineties indie rock.
I haven’t listened to Archers of Loaf in years. I lost interest in what the band was doing by the late nineties, and like many of the albums I listened to thousands of times in my teens, I find their music too intertwined in intense memories and feelings to listen to again. I have a hard time extricating the psychic detritus of my youth from certain albums.
The crunchy warbled opening of “Harnessed in Slums” brought back a strange rush of the past. I remembered seeing the band—on a school night!—in support of Icky Mettle. My friend Wayne brought a paper headband to the show and guitarist Eric Johnson wore it through most of the set. They gave us the set list (on a paper plate) and autographed stuff. I wonder if they thought it was weird that we wanted their autographs—I think it’s weird now. (By the time I was 17 I had almost no interest in talking to anyone in a band, let alone getting an autograph).
“Harnessed in Slums” is a perfect Archers track, poppy, proggy, fake-sloppy, a punk anthem channeled through the crunchy trademark sound of the 1990s NC Triangle. Weirder and darker than Superchunk, tighter and more metallic than Pavement, Archers of Loaf hit a not-too-sweet spot somewhere between prog virtuosity and DIY punk aesthetic. The lyrics are bizarre, maybe meaningless, a shout-along that could have come from a Burroughs cut up (“I want waste / We want waste / They want waste / Slaves want waste”; “Strip the color from the meat of my eye”).
The b-side is “Telepathic Traffic,” a jam that swells with acoustic guitars and snaky, snarly guitar lines—there’s almost something crime noir about the song. It’s sinister anyway. Eric Bachmann’s opening barks are almost comical, as if he’s imitating some British post-punk hero, before clustering into a pogoing chorus. “Telepathic Traffic” bears a few too many conventions that can become tiresome over an album—the track slows and speeds up unnecessarily when it should plow straight ahead (or perhaps just get faster).
Listening to these tracks again doesn’t make me want to pull out Icky Mettle as much as it makes me want to check out Erich Bachmann’s latest stuff. Has he mellowed out? Added more/different instrumentation? Complicated or simplified his sound? I remember being perplexed by his 1995 solo album Barry Black, which I recall having chamber arrangements. Maybe I should check it out.