THE ARCHERS OF LOAF: VEE VEE (1995)
1) Step Into The Light; 2) Harnessed In Slums; 3) Nevermind The Enemy; 4) Greatest Of All Times; 5) Underdogs Of Nipomo; 6) Floating Friends; 7) 1985; 8) Fabricoh; 9) Nostalgia; 10) Let The Loser Melt; 11) Death In The Park; 12) The Worst Has Yet To Come; 13) Underachievers March And Fight Song.
Although Icky Mettle usually gets all the hoopla, I personally find the follow-up, Vee Vee, to be far more interesting. As it often happens, the sophomore effort is a little less aggressive, a little more experimental, a touch more oriented at subtleties and a touch less at basic punch. But if The Archers Of Loaf were to find their own place in the already huge and still growing world of indie rock, they had to rely more on subtleties and less on punch — because, want it or not, we generally punch more or less in the same way, whereas our subtleties are all vastly individual.
The subtle side of Eric Bachmann, in particular, led him to exploring the capacities of the drone, the trill, and the jangle. There is a lot of exciting dual guitar playing here, and a lot less boring generic noise than on Icky Mettle. Check out ʽUnderdogs Of Nipomoʼ, where one low-pitched guitar begins playing the song like a jerky mid-tempo blues-rocker, then a different, higher-pitched, one joins it in a weeping psychedelic manner and prevents the song from being «just another» alt-rocker. And that happens all over the place on this album.
Additionally, there is a little more emphasis placed on the accessibility of the lyrics — the surrealism is still there, but the «key phrases», like root notes, are more firmly accentuated to set certain moods for certain songs. Thus, "all of my friends have floated away", sung in a croaking, almost breaking voice, immediately sets a lament-like sort of mood for ʽFloating Friendsʼ, and even if the rest of the lyrics seem to insist that the phrase be taken literally (because "they clog up the valley and drift up to outer space"), you know that's not really it. It's just a sad song, if not a particularly great one in terms of melody.
In terms of melody, most of the really cool stuff happens early on. ʽStep Into The Lightʼ is a swirling kaleidoscope of droning and jangling guitars, much more early Velvet Underground in style than Nirvana or even Pavement. So is ʽHarnessed In Slumsʼ, except it is much faster: if you really let yourself go, the contrast between the masculine and feminine guitars spinning round and round will suck you right inside the circle. Yet it isn't a happy psychedelic merry-go-round — it is a grim circle, maybe more like an inescapable vortex, not overtly pessimistic and suicidal like The Cure, but with a strong whiff of negativity all the same. If it looks like I am babbling, it is simply the result of having to listen to these songs too many times in order to get their appeal.
Words, intonations, notes, overdubs, structures, everything seems to come together here in a general message that is perhaps best summed up in the next to last song, ʽDeath In The Parkʼ: "It's always the same people / Pissing the same people off". The surrealism and psychedelia with which Bachmann and Johnson are toying around is just a mild attempt to break the circle of depressing boredom and routine, predictable happenings of life. The grim guitar drone symbolizes the boredom, and the high whining guitar... the pain? Whatever. Anyway, it is not about the single ingredients, it's about the whole package — it works, although it also takes quite a bit of time to sink in. But concentrate on understanding that these two guys swirl their guitars like few other couples of guys ever swirled them, and that is the first step towards feeling the coolness of Vee Vee rather than just stating it.
Ironically, the record ends on a completely unpredictable note: after the depression reaches a climax of sorts on the aptly titled ʽThe Worst Has Yes To Comeʼ, the band launches into an almost carnivalesque «ditty», replete with kiddie-style whistling, simplistic banjo strum, and stupid horns — ʽUnderachievers March And Fight Songʼ, indeed. "Underachievers / Total domination / Kill a billion years / Of total frustration" — hey there hordes of people all over the world, The Archers Of Loaf have written the perfect anthem for you to wake up to every morning, and most of you probably don't even know about it. Oh well, here's one little thumbs up to help with the promotion, even if it's coming about fifteen years too late.
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