Reunions are dicey ordeals. Even in the best of circumstances – and those, increasingly, are not the majority of them – band egos clash, new, ambitious directions in music can be thwarted, and the magic that once defined an act’s natural chemistry can go missing. They are not for the faint of heart. But, we are proud to announce that Reason in Decline, the first LP from a reunited Archers of Loaf and the group’s first new collection of music in 24 years, largely sidesteps the dangerous pretexts of the form and ends up sharing something that both tickles the nostalgia funny-bone and advances Archers of Loaf‘s ambitious narratives.
The record begins with “Human”, where we are introduced to this new descendant of the Clinton-era clan. The members are the same, with the ever-interesting Eric Bachmann as frontman, but the sound, Archers of Loaf fans will surely notice is a little more mature. The press release for Reason in Decline kind of nails it: “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.”
Where LPs like All the Nation’s Airports and White Trash Heroes depended on a little dissonance and narrative strife between the two scrappy guitars, here they seem to have the same goals, even similar tacts of approach. Johnson’s trebly, caterwaul screeching has subsided a bit in favor of something that acts as a kind of high-pitched counter-notation; see the soaring quotations on the excellent but relatively subdued “Mama Was a War Profiteer”. Bachman, who’s been working solo or “solo” primarily since the Archers of Loaf split around the passing of the 20th century, has a singer-songwriter quality to his lead refrains. However, Archers of Loaf are quick to offer glimpses that not everything has changed, with a barnburner like “Screaming Undercover” throwing a little Minneapolis rage into the proceedings and the bridges on “The Moment You End” reveling in a bit of 1990s post-rock. As we said, there’s plenty on the new LP to tickle the funny nostalgia bone.
That brings us to the matter of Bachmann’s voice. As many might or might not know, Bachmann had throat surgery and had to “re-learn how to sing”; more appropriately, how to push out the notes from his diaphragm instead of the back of his throat. The result, which he shares with a little polish, will take some Archers of Loaf fans a moment or two to adjust to. Oddly enough, it often lends the recording a bit of a commercial sheen or the simulacrum of accessibility, dare we say. Bachmann even goes so far as to parody it a bit, with his banshee vibrato wails on the closing ballad “War Is Wide Open”. Not since Tom Waits‘ Frank’s Wild Years have we heard such desperation in an operatic reach.
There’s a lot to like about the new LP. “In the Surface Noise” starts with the kind of jagged time, a digitally delayed guitar that made White Trash Heroes’ title track so memorable back in the day. And the band takes it up a notch from there, with Bachmann, Johnson, and bassist Matt Gentling chugging along over perfectly timed tom and snare hits from drummer Mark Price. “Saturation and Light”, a surefire single for the LP if ever there is one, makes incredible use of Johnson’s trebly soars for a bit of optimism – all the lines practically buoy Bachmann’s delivery.
There are lesser moments, too. The transition from “Mama Was a War Profiteer” to “Aimee” creates a bit of a soft spot in the sequencing, a lull, even, from which it takes another track or two to re-discover the forward momentum. “Misinformation Age”, though the spirited, even punky take here is illuminating, sounded much better when Bachmann (working solo) hammered it out as a moody, dirgy ballad.
That said, this is an excellent record from a great band that, if you didn’t realize, you would never know, has been on a recording hiatus for the better part of two and a half decades. Kudos, first, to the Archers of Loaf for foregoing the gratuitous victory laps and not just re-playing the 1990s sets over and over. Even bigger kudos go to these guys for imagining what a new Archers of Loaf record would sound like after that hefty hiatus. Reason in Decline is adventurous, bold, and oddly mature for a band of this vintage. Hopefully, this leads to more new songs and adventures instead of, like so many reunion-ists, negotiations with more of the same.