Archers of Loaf closed their first act on a note of open-ended potential. The North Carolina indie rock icons’ fourth and, at the time, final album, White Trash Heroes turned down the fuzzboxes and allowed more of their strange, experimental tendencies to shine through. Nocturnal textures, raggedly syncopated rhythms, and a greater presence of keyboard hum throughout, in part predicting the haunted singer/songwriter direction that frontman Eric Bachmann would release with Crooked Fingers, it felt like the opening a door as much as the closing of one. Even if the members of the band were, in fact, parting ways.
White Trash Heroes was released in 1998, and since 2011 the group has been back together at least as a touring band, which means that for the past three decades, they’ve been an active band for more years than they haven’t. But it wasn’t until the release of a handful of new songs in 2020, “Raleigh Days” and the “Talking Over Talk/Cruel Reminder” single, that Archers actually made good on that door left cracked, exploring who they were as a band now versus revisiting who they were in the ’90s. Those first few steps eventually led them to the bigger leap of Reason In Decline, their first new album in over two decades, and one that seems to find resolution after the ellipses left by their last album, 24 years ago.
The anthemic roar of the album’s first single, “In the Surface Noise,” suggested early on that the loose ends left on White Trash Heroes would be just that—this is an entirely different animal, soaring, resolute, almost E Street Band-like in its heroic rise. But it’s not the scrappy, noisy gnarl of early Archers either—this is a band with a new and different sense of purpose than the one who warned in their twenties that things will get weird. Archers of Loaf are a little less raucous, a little less reckless, a little more invested in a satisfying resolution. As such, the songs on Reason In Decline are taut and impeccably crafted, every bit the concise nuggets of melody and distorted snarl of before, but made earnestly bombastic on “Human,” dreamily tense on “Saturation and Light,” and rushing with forward momentum on “Screaming Undercover.”
There’s a sense of joy that radiates throughout these songs, even when they’re by and large driven by a kind of weary resignation that comes from living in an increasingly fractured, permanently scarred America. From the very first song, Eric Bachmann laments, “It’s hard to be human,” and on “Screaming Undercover,” he sneers, “Everybody’s dreaming but the dream is a lie!” But there’s a playful and warm sensibility about these songs, as well, best heard on the subdued and beautiful, “Aimee,” inspired by a wrong-number voice mail, on which Bachmann sings, “I don’t mind if we don’t find our way home.” As much as Archers of Loaf seem to carry the weight of a lot more worry on their chests than they did in their twenties, they also sound like they’re simply having a lot of fun making new music again. As a listener, that feeling is infectious.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.