Archers of Loaf : Vee Vee (Remastered)

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Online message boards populated by anonymous members aren’t always the most productive venues for revelatory discussions about music, but nonetheless, it was through this venue where I heard from a number of longtime Archers of Loaf fans that their go-to Loaf recording was not actually Icky Mettle, the band’s acclaimed debut, but Vee Vee, its weirder, messier follow up. To my ears, Icky Mettle is a masterpiece of abrasive indie rock, boasting harsh riffs and gleaming hooks in equal measure, whereas Vee Vee had the energy, but not necessarily the taut pop songwriting. It’s a divide along which Archers listeners find themselves on either side, with an even smaller subset breaking for their third and fourth albums, All the Nation’s Aiports and White Trash Heroes, respectively. And, much to my surprise, at that moment I fell into a minority.

Vee Vee is not my favorite Archers of Loaf album, but that’s not to say the album isn’t its own strange triumph of feedback, punk-pop melodies and chaotic songcraft. Following the fierce and viscerally satisfying eruption of Icky Mettle, the Chapel Hill, N.C. quartet took a counterintuitive next step. While most of their peers were cleaning up and readying more polished records for major label release and alternative radio airplay, the Archers of Loaf loosened their approach, scuffed it up and set out to make an even more raw and frayed piece of art. Vee Vee was more cluttered and chaotic than the band’s debut, rocking hard but sounding ready to fall apart at any minute under the weight of the stacks of dirt and junk each song bore. And yet, in spite of this, videos for “Harnessed in Slums” and “Underachievers March and Fight Song” both landed on “120 Minutes.”

The beauty in Vee Vee is not in the purely dissonant quality it transmits, however, but in the wholeness that it creates in spite of its ragged exterior. One cursory listen to the album’s first track, “Step Into the Light,” can feel like listening to a band tuning up or just finding their footing, but there’s a kind of genius in its ramshackle approach, and in time it begins to make sense. Not every track is so raw, however. Single “Harnessed In Slums” is one of instances in which everything seems to come together perfectly, no duct tape needed, and its melody memorable and catchy enough that it would have fit in just fine on the band’s debut. The album’s strongest moments, meanwhile, are those where the scratchy, squealing nature of the band’s loose tunings and fidelity lead to unlikely pop majesty, as on the searing “Nevermind the Enemy” or the strangely pretty “Death in the Park.”

The single, EP and outtake material from the Vee Vee era, collected on Merge Records‘ remastered reissue of the album, has much of that messy charm, and in many cases stacks up nicely against the album material. “Telepathic Traffic,” originally released as a 7-inch, is as raucous and aggressive as the Archers got, but also surprisingly elegant, boasting a cello and some shimmering guitar effects. Its flipside, “Don’t Believe the Good News,” however, is far more lethargic and tossed off, sounding as if the band is ready to just drop their instruments and collapse under the weight of their exhaustion. The group drops a little TV police drama influence into their instrumental “Mark Price P.I.,” and takes and admirable stab at a spacious, spaghetti western-style instrumental on the unreleased track “Equinox.”

The more one listens to Vee Vee, the more endearing it is likely to become. While it would take a lot for the album to overtake Icky Mettle as my favorite, it’s an album I nonetheless return to, sometimes out of the satisfaction of hearing a raw, pounding indie rock rumble, and sometimes out of the challenging way it achieves that end. If Vee Vee hasn’t built up the reputation its predecessor has, it’s probably because the band set out to make something even less commercial or immediate. Yet no amount of obfuscation kept it from becoming a cult favorite.

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Video: Archers of Loaf – “Harnessed In Slums”

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