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TBTS Reviews: Archers of Loaf, Vee Vee reissue

February 26, 2012

A great album, now reissued with weird, sweet new cover art, from the “greatest of all time.”

As I indicated in my review of last year’s reunion tour stop in Atlanta, it’s pretty much impossible for me to write about the Archers of Loaf with even a trace of objectivity. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since 1993-94, and they’re thoroughly woven into my memories of half my life. It’s barely an exaggeration to say that their music, and the mutual appreciation thereof, has been a bedrock element of a handful of my valued friendships, some of which are gone now, some of which have persisted through time and distance.

So, given this background, perhaps it was inevitable that the Archers’ music would, for me, age better than that of any of their mid-90s indie-rock contemporaries. But I’m not so sure, actually—my teenage and early 20s self loved Sebadoh, Versus, Seam, and some of Pavement’s stuff with just about the same intensity as the Archers. Of course, I still appreciate and fondly recall those other bands of my youth. But now, compared to the Archers, Sebadoh sounds fussy and solipsistic, Versus and Seam sound one-dimensional, and Pavement sounds sleepy and insufficiently song-oriented (actually, Pavement always sounded like that, even when I liked them more!). Only the Archers’ stuff, including the recently reissued and B-sides-loaded Vee Vee and their other three studio albums, do I hear as enthusiastically with my mid-30s ears as I did with my adolescent ones. Their songs are just better and more timeless than any others that emerged from the 1990s American indie-rock scene.

Like the other albums, Vee Vee features some of my favorite Archers songs and a small number of weaker ones. Along with the iconic “Web in Front” from debut album Icky Mettle, Vee Vee’s lead single “Harnessed in Slums” is perhaps the quintessential Archers song—driving, catchy as hell, with odd, comically dark lyrics. “The Greatest of All Time,” a funny, strangely moving mini-epic, is one the Archers’ many meta-songs about rock music itself, most of which end up speaking to more universal themes about work, success, and selling out while commenting on the music industry and the life of a rock band. “Fabricoh” and “Nostalgia” are an incredible, bracing 1-2 punch to start the album’s second half, and “The Worst Has Yet to Come” features some of my favorite lyrics of any Archers song. I must say that Vee Vee is bookended by two songs I’ve always found less than compelling—the aimless “Step into the Light” at the beginning, and the just-plain-annoying “Underachievers March & Fight Song” as the unfortunate conclusion. Still, even with these lesser tracks, Vee Vee of course remains one of the finest albums to emerge from the mid-90s American indie-rock scene, of which the Archers of Loaf should be widely regarded as the champions and standard-bearers. The greatest of all time, if you will.

As with last year’s Icky Mettle reissue, a real draw to the Vee Vee reissue is the second disc of B-sides and unreleased tracks. I especially recommend “Telepathic Traffic” and “Bacteria,” two of the Archers’ most astonishingly powerful songs. Even in a career with many peaks and highlights, these two tracks represent the Archers at their best. At every Archers show I saw after “Telepathic Traffic” first appeared as a B-side on the “Harnessed in Slums” CD-single (remember those?), I used to obnoxiously yell out a request for them to play it live. I still think “Telepathic Traffic” might be the best song the Archers ever wrote, and the epic  “Bacteria” isn’t far behind.

So, plain and simple, the Vee Vee reissue is well worth it, even for longtime fans who, like me, already own the original in multiple formats. The new packaging and cover art are outstanding, especially on the (green!) vinyl LP, and the second disc also features some never-released demos and other curiosities. So buy this record, go see ‘em live, and support the welcome reunion and reemergence of one of our best.

The excellent reissues of the Archers’ final two albums, All the Nations Airports and White Trash Heroes, are reviewed here.

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