Reason in Decline

Archers of Loaf
Reason in Decline

October 21st, 2022


Seminal indie-rockers Archers of Loaf have announced their first album in 24 (!!!) years, set for release on October 21st on Merge Records.

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.”

Point of order: For anybody worried that the band is going soft or getting lost in their feelings, pub-punk stormer “Screaming Undercover” will take your fucking head off with its chant-along, outrun-the-cops, Replacements-ish blur.

Given Bachmann’s state of mind—plus the state of the world—during the writing and recording process, it’s no surprise that two of Reason in Decline’s more memorable songs have the word “war” in the title. A face-first, cinematic tour through the carnage of imperialist greed, “Mama Was a War Profiteer” goes beyond truth-telling and questions America’s cynical view of overseas poverty and conflict as just another economic opportunity, all while children’s limbs get blown off. The somber, insistent piano meditation “War Is Wide Open” closes Reason in Decline with a bang of frustration and dumbfounded horror. While we consume news of bloodshed and corruption day after day, what do we do with the burden of knowing? What is our responsibility? Bachmann’s war is more internal than on the roads outside Kyiv.

In short, this is not your father’s Archers of Loaf, even if you’re a father now who was a fan then. (If that’s the case, congrats on surviving the Plague and getting to hear this fearlessly poignant record, you alt-geezer!) Otherwise, thank your youthful fucking lucky stars, kids! Enjoy Reason in Decline with fresh ears and do as the Archers have been doing: Stay humble, stay informed, express yourself creatively, and try not to lose your goddamned mind while the polar ice caps melt. Peace.