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“Icky Mettle” by Archers of Loaf: Classic Album Review

In music communities there is always discourse about the best bands, albums, or songs of a certain genre and time period. In the 1990s indie rock fans argued over the best or most influential bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement, Pixies, the list goes on and on. These same debates still go on today, especially within a lot of online music communities.

Through online discourse about the best bands of the 90s, younger kids have been able to rediscover artists like Duster, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine. Internet discourse about music has been really important to the popularization of older artists with younger generations. 

In many of these discussions about the best or most influential indie rock bands from the 90s, I feel that Archers of Loaf rarely gets mentioned. I believe they never got the right amount of praise and attention they deserved in the 90s and today. According to my parents, who turned me on to Archers of Loaf, during the 90s there was a lot of discourse about Archers of Loaf vs Pavement, and who was better (which I feel like is an unfair comparison to both bands because they sound nothing alike). Growing up my parents were huge Archers of Loaf fans and I never fully appreciated their music until I was in high school and going through an “angsty” phase.

One day I put on their first album, “Icky Mettle,” in my room, and I remember not being able to stop myself from head banging to “Web in Front” and jumping around my room to “Might.” The album quickly became my go to album to listen to in the car, the album I listen to when class starts in five minutes and I’m ten minutes away and need something upbeat to get me to walk faster, an album I listen to when I’m frustrated, and so much more.

Archers of Loaf are a four-piece classic indie rock-outlet who formed in 1991 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The band is composed of lead singer and guitarist Eric Bachman, who has also had a solo career for over 20 years, drummer Mark Price, guitarist Eric Johnson, and bassist Matt Gentling, who is also the bassist for Band of Horses.  

I started writing this piece a while ago but was having trouble describing my love for the band’s debut record because nothing I could write would perfectly capture how amazing and important this record is to me, many other people, and how influential it would be to future indie rock music.

However, the band recently released their first new studio album in over two decades, “Reason in Decline” on October 21, 2022, which inspired me to revisit their discography more and dive back into “Icky Mettle.” 

Their debut album, which came out in 1993, combines elements of noise pop, power-pop, slowcore, and the slacker-aesthetic sound that was popularized in the 90s by acts like Sonic Youth and Pavement, is my favorite of theirs. “Icky Mettle” is a perfectly balanced record. It has just the right amount of angst and abrasive songs, tongue in cheek pop tunes, and slow burners. The opening track “Web in Front,” is one of my favorite songs and most iconic album openers.

The song is powerful and driving, has amazing guitar work, iconic drum beats, and lyrics you will find yourself instantly singing along to. The chorus of the song repeats the lines “all I ever wanted was to be your spine,” Bachman is crying out to be wanted and needed by someone, and he is instantly opening up and showing he is not afraid to be vulnerable on this record. 

The third track on the album, “Wrong,” has some of my favorite lyrics on the album. Lead singer Eric Bachmann sings, “I do not think that you could like me, anyway / Because you are inferior to me,” but when the chorus repeats, he changes the word inferior to “superior in all aspects to me” changing the emotions from hatred directed toward the subject to hatred towards himself, which is incredibly personal.

Bachman’s poetic lyrics always stand out to me and he has many changes in his songs that will hit you right in the gut. He has some of the most clever lyrics from this scene. The instrumental on the song sounds angry. Price bangs the drums as if this is the last time they’ll play the song and Johnson shreds some of the most interesting guitar parts in indie rock: nobody plays like him and he definitely created a signature sound on this record. 

“Wrong” is followed by another song fueled by anger and loss titled “You and Me.” It’s a sludgy and emotional track. It starts slow with just the bass line, it’s dark, heavy and consuming. The rest of the band kicks in after a few seconds with crashing cymbals, aggressive vocals, and screeching guitars. The energy on this record sets them apart from so many other indie rock bands in the 90s. This record made me realize how powerful and beautiful and emotional anger could be as Bachman seems to release all his repression and pours his heart into songs that ended up sounding so full and enormous. 

Towards the middle of the record lies one of my favorite tunes on the album, “Plumb Line.” It was one of the first songs of theirs I got into and it’s the perfect tongue-in-cheek pop song to break up the heavy hitting first half of the album. The song starts with a catchy and perfectly fuzzy guitar hook from Johnson and a driving bass line and drums from Gentling and Price.

The chorus is my favorite part of the song when Bachman sings, “she’s an indie rocker and nothings gonna stop her, plumb line says she’s a bitch.” He was clearly hurt by a really cool girl even though he tries to hide it by singing “clearly this is your loss, clearly it’s not my loss.” She’s out of his league, so she’s instantly a bitch. It’s really silly, and at the same time endearing, because it’s like the mental simplicity we all wish we could have, or at least I do.

You got to love a classic sassy breakup song for when you want to direct all your energy outward. This is honestly one of the most perfect break up albums, as Bachman goes through the bitter aspects of a break up and his inability to look inward. I find the immaturity of some of the lyrics comforting, because it can be hard to face our insecurities and downfalls.

Bachman also goes through conflicting feelings of self-hatred at times which is humanizing and grounds the record, and it’s refreshing to hear him admit his most vulnerable feelings. At the end of the song there’s a chanting part repeating “she’s an indie rocker and nothings gonna stop her” which is reminiscent of the chanting at the end of “Web in Front” and I love when Archers do that. 

The record closes with the song “Slow Worm” and the song is an earworm for sure, it’s a great ending track, it’s amazingly catchy, and leaves you wanting more from the band. Especially in the last minute of the song as the feedback swirls and rings out over consistent drum hits. 

After releasing their debut record, the band continued to release more projects full of energy and passion. They have an extensive discography, and another one of my favorite releases from them is a five track EP titled “Vs the Greatest of All Time,” which is another classic, yet overlooked, project from them. The EP was released a year after “Icky Mettle.”

The energy on the EP is so pure and raw, it’s impossible to recreate. Nothing makes me feel more unstoppable than listening to the opening track “Audiowhore.” They sure have a knack for setting the tone of their records in the first few minutes. The guitar parts in “Audiowhore” are swirling and powerful, carrying the angst of the tune. The other four tracks on the EP are equally as amazing, the next song “Lowest Part Is Free!” holds on to the energy of the first track and continues to build upon it.

Another classic song of theirs comes next, “Freezing Point.” This track is one of the closest comparisons to Pavement that I could see. It’s the perfect indie rock tune, more lo-fi, the chorus is super catchy, and I could easily see Stephen Malkmus singing the chorus. 

Their energy was (and continues to be) chaotic, consuming, inspiring, and authentic. Archers of Loaf created some of the most amazing music of the 1990s and are often forgotten about. They changed indie rock music and created a distinct sound and energy that nobody can replicate.

If you want to be cool and listen to who I believe to be an underrated band, you can check out their music on Bandcamp and other streaming services, you can also catch them at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro on March 25 in support of their new album. And if for some reason somebody from the Archers of Loaf is reading this, or one of their friends sees this, can you please tell them to bring back the Archers of Loaf Pennants?

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Concert Review

MJ Lenderman Concert Review

Local Asheville, North Carolina legends, MJ Lenderman and the Wind opened for Katie Crutchfield and Jesse Williamson’s new project, Plains, on their month-long tour in support of their new album. 

On Monday November 7, Plains and MJ Lenderman stopped in Saxapahaw, North Carolina at the Haw River Ballroom on their tour. This was the perfect night for me because the Haw River Ballroom is one of my favorite venues in the area, and MJ Lenderman and Waxahatchee are two of my favorite artists. I wrote about my love for MJ Lenderman’s latest album “Boat Songs” in a blog post over the summer, and I continue to gush over the album everyday. 

MJ Lenderman is the solo project of singer songwriter Jake Lenderman, he is also known for his lead guitar work in the band Wednesday. The band played as a six-piece, made up of frontman Jake Lenderman, drummer Colin Miller, who has a solo project I really love, Xandy Chelmis on pedal steel and tambourine, who also plays pedal steel in Wednesday, Jon Samuels on guitar, who also plays in 2nd grade and Friendship, a bass player I did not catch the name of when he was introduced on stage, and guest guitarist Brad Cook, who is an acclaimed producer and musician based in Durham, NC. He’s worked on records like “Valentine” from Snail Mail, “Any Shape You Take” by Indigo De Souza, Plains’ “I Walked With You A Ways,” and so many others. 

The “Hometown” Heroes played a 45 minute set and opened with the electric tune “You Have Bought Yourself A Boat.” The crashing symbols and bombastic bassline made for a great opening tune. From there the band played “TLC Cagematch” and then “Hangover Game.” It was really interesting to hear the band slow it down so quickly and bring it back up by wedging one of their saddest songs in between their most driving tunes. 

Karly Hartzman, the lead singer and guitarist of Wednesday came on stage for “Toontown” to sing backing vocals. Her voice shined through against such a somber tune adding to the atmosphere of the performance. A lot of people in the audience were fans of MJ Lenderman, and I think a lot of his family was at the show, which added to the atmosphere and excitement for the band as well. 

The band’s energy on stage was electric. They set up in a u shape so they could all look at each other and communicate about the stops, changes, and jams throughout the set. Everyone on stage looked like they were having a great time and it felt as if they were allowing the audience to look in on one of their practices. Their sound filled the intimidatingly large size of the Haw River Ballroom. It was a lot of fun to watch Xandy get really into the songs and not be able to stop moving while playing the pedal steel or tambourine. The performance also felt really personal, Lenderman is a really honest song writer and his vulnerability translates well on stage through his vocal delivery.  

Later in the set the band played older songs like “Knockin’” and “Someone Get the Grill Out of the Rain” which the crowd loved. They closed out with their tune “Tastes Just Like it Costs” which had kind of been a track I had overlooked on his new record, since the record is filled with so many amazing tracks that I gravitated towards more. However, hearing this song live has now made it one of my favorites. The band played with so much passion, it radiated off the stage. Set to cast in overblown fuzzy guitars, the track has a sense of warmth that comforts in the face of disappointment. I was enthralled by the way Lenderman sang out “Mmmm honey, it tastes just like it cost” with so much emotion. By the end of the song the whole crowd and band were singing that line along with him. 

Plains followed up MJ Lenderman, and of course they sounded wonderful. Crutchfield and Williamson had the most perfect harmonies, their voices blended so well together. The group played some of their new songs like “Problem With It” and “Abilene” and they also played songs from their solo projects together, like “Can’t Do Much” from Waxahatchee’s catalog and “Hunter” from Jesse Williamson’s catalog. 

MJ Lenderman will be back in the area on February 2, 2023 at the Cat’s cradle back room with Florry.

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Concert Review

Second Annual Psychic Hotline Block Party brought local & national artists together at Cat’s Cradle 

On Saturday, October 15, I saw Lambchop, an alternative country band on Merge Records, at the Psychic Hotline Block Party at the Cat’s Cradle and it was one of my favorite live performances I have seen in the last year. The lineup was stacked with local legends like Truth Club, Indigo De Souza who played a DJ set, Loamlands, and many national artists like Hand Habits, Bartees Strange, AROOJ AFTAB, and more.

This was the second Psychic Hotline Block Party, named after and organized by the record label created and operated by Durham’s very own Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso. It was an all-day event at the Cat’s cradle with performances inside the main room, backroom, and outside on the lawn and there was a pop-up shop inside the Arts Center. 

Lambchop closed out the Block Party in the backroom of the Cat’s Cradle. The last time I saw Lambchop, and the first time, was at Merge 30, a festival at the Cat’s Cradle celebrating the legendary North Carolina record label, Merge Record’s 30th Birthday. There the band performed as what seemed like a 20-piece to me, but there may have been seven or eight people on stage (this was in 2019 so my memory of it isn’t super clear). 

The band has a very unique sound that is unlike any other. They are able to combine opposite music styles of chamber pop, alt-country, Americana, and slowcore to create surreal sounds that filled the room. Lambchop is made up of rotating members, centered around frontman Kurt Wagner.

Their performance at Psychic Hotline was special as Wagner and Andrew Broder performed as a duo. Lambchop has never had a “core” lineup in the band, it consists of a large and ever-evolving collective of musicians including Matthew McCaughn, William Tyler, and James McNew. 

Wagner stood center stage surrounded by darkness, with Broder on the piano to his left. The duo performed many songs from their latest album, “The Bible,” which was released on September 30, 2022, on Merge Records. Before this performance, I had not listened to the album yet, but the minute the performance started I was immediately entranced by Wagner. 

The duo opened their set with “His Song is Sung,” the opening track on the new record.​​ The song was heartbreaking as Wagner sang about a visit he had with his father before he passed. I can still hear his voice echoing “no one’s edgier than I” at the end of the song.

Each song flowed effortlessly into one another, Wagner barely taking a break to catch his breath or speak to the audience. The whole audience did not take their eyes off Wagner, the room was silent, there were only a few phones out here and there taking videos, and nobody left their place in front of the stage. 

Towards the middle of the set, with my eyes locked on Wagner, shakily signing the lyrics to “Daisy,” I felt tears running down my face. Maybe it was because I only got two hours of sleep the night before, or maybe it was because I had never seen somebody be so vulnerable on stage as I saw Wagner being, but it was probably a mixture of both.  

One of the most spectacular aspects of the set was the way Wagner made his voice fill up every empty void in the venue. Not one line he sang fell flat, each word was filled with such intense emotion as it moved through the room.

Usually, when I see shows I feel like all of the energy is on the stage being shared between the members, but here I felt like the piano was swirling around me and Wagner was reaching his hand out to me and signing the words directly to me. The music felt like it moved throughout the room like a gust of wind or a distant memory passing through your mind. 

The set also consisted of new songs “A Major Minor Drag” and “That’s Music” and older tunes like “The New Cobweb Summer” from the album “Is a Woman” and “Give It,” a song that isn’t on any of their albums but has a famed indie classic, live video from their performance of it at Merge Records 20th anniversary festival. They closed their set with a fun cover of a song titled “Listening (to Lambchop by myself again)” by Sun June. 

I hope Psychic Hotline continues to put on annual Block Parties celebrating local musicians, artists on their label, and artists they look up to.

I feel very fortunate that North Carolina has such a rich music scene that artists, like Sylvan Esso, can get involved in and start a record label and host shows showcasing unique musicians and artists. 

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New Album Review

MJ Lenderman “Boat Songs” Album Review

In my last blog post about local music I would be listening to this summer, I briefly mentioned that I was listening to MJ Lenderman’s new album “Boat Songs.” In the two weeks that have passed, I have been listening to the album more and more. It’s the perfect melancholic summer time album that I desperately needed, and I couldn’t stop myself from constantly listening to it. I am a huge fan of his self-titled album from 2019 and his work in and with Wednesday as their lead guitar player. 

Through Wednesday’s rise in popularity, MJ Lenderman has been able to get recognition for his writing and his solo projects. The album is atmospheric, cathartic and an interesting blend of 90s indie rock, 60s and 70s Americana, and modern shoegaze. Through consistent lyrical themes of loss, anxiety and destruction, Lenderman continues to refine and polish his writing. The album feels like an emotional release for Lenderman as he sings about memories from his childhood and the joy and sadness he feels in his present life. 

Lenderman plays with contrast a lot on the record; it starts off with the punchy tune “Hangover Game” followed by the groovy song “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat.” The next two songs that immediately follow the fun introduction, “TLC Cagematch” and “Toontown,” are the saddest on the record.  

“TLC Cagematch” is a cleaner re-recorded version of the song from his more lo-fi 2021 EP “Knockin’.” Lenderman sings about pro wrestling and his discomfort watching the participants get thrown around over gorgeous steel guitar melodies and sweet back-up vocals from Karly Hartzman, the lead singer of Wednesday. 

The next song, “Toontown,” is a more slowcore-influenced track that allows Lenderman to expand on the album’s theme about trying and failing to achieve happiness, while thrilling bursts of noise in the latter half bring the already intense song to another level. The last verse ends by Lenderman singing, “Just some watered-down romeo clown / With his pants pulled down” followed by an emotional build up of swirling guitars and cymbal crashes. 

What I love about this record—and Lenderman’s writing on it—is its ability to capture the mundanity of life and the emotions that we might consider to be small, but actually end up consuming us. His writing is painfully honest and relatable, and he has a way of making casual events and images feel like devastation. Sounding defeated on “Under Control,” he sings “I had it under control, and then it snow balled, and rolled and rolled and rolled, and I don’t have control anymore.” These are very simple lyrics and something that many of us have felt before, but Lenderman does not hide from the fact that something this small can make you feel like your world is crashing down on you. 

The atmosphere of the record is really interesting, and—at times—it feels comforting, like Lenderman is talking to you like an old friend he’s updating on his life. Other times, the record sounds so lonely and distant. Lenderman celebrates his insecurities throughout the record. On the last song “Six Flags,” he eerily sings, “I’m not counting, no one’s counting, your mistakes” as the album draws to a close.

– Eilee

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Local Music

Local Artists for the Summer

When I attended Hopscotch in September of last year, I attended a few day parties to try and learn more about the local music scene since I was a fan of some bigger local artists like Wednesday and Indigo de Souza. I got to hear a lot of great artists, so over the year I’ve made an effort to listen to more North Carolina artists and attend more local shows. Now that it’s the summer I have more time to search for local artists, so here’s what I’m going to be listening to this summer from North Carolina artists. 

First is an artist I’ve been listening to for a while, Melaina Kol, an exciting new independent artist out of Youngsville, North Carolina. The person behind Melaina Kol is Logan Hornyak who first broke onto the indie scene when he released his album Black Bile in 2018. His latest album, “AMOSAT,” was released in November of 2021 and I have not stopped listening since. 

The music is infectious and dives into the genres of indietronica, bedroom pop and indie folk. The album opens with the beautiful track “Mi” which transcends you and immediately hooks you into the album. The opening track is followed by my favorite song on the album, “Little Trees” which reminds me of something off earlier Animal Collective albums like Strawberry Jam. I could imagine listening to this album in a field on a warm sunny day as the songs wash over me. 

The next album I’ve been listening to a lot is MJ Lenderman’s new album “Boat Songs.” The opening track is one of my favorite songs and it’s perfect for a summer drive, as is the rest of the album. “Hangover Game” is a driving tune, and gives listeners a taste for the listening journey they are about to embark on. This fun alt-country, slacker rock and slowcore album will have you laughing at some of the silly lyrics and dissecting the more serious themes on the album like Lenderman’s chase for fulfillment and happiness. The fuzz on the guitars and vocals make the songs feel comforting, like a warm hug. 

Another great band I’ve been listening to is Hiding Places from Asheville, NC. While they only have three songs out right now, the band has amazing potential and I can’t wait to see what they release in the future. Their songs are relatable and have great production which adds an interesting atmosphere to the tracks. My favorite song of theirs is “Heartbreak Skatepark.” The track is a perfect indie rock tune, the end has a great build up that draws you into the story of the lead singer’s heartbreak.
The last artist I’ve been listening to a lot and will be listening to throughout the summer is BEX, also from Asheville, NC. The Asheville-based singer’s new EP, “Move It Or Lose It” is filled with catchy indie rock songs, dreamy guitars and vocals and driving bass lines. If you’re a fan of the indie rock outlet Forth Wanderers, you might like BEX.

– Eilee