I need to open this review with a caveat. I love the Archers. Well, I loved the Archers. I had the pleasure of seeing them numerous times at Cat's Cradle on Chapel Hill and (better) the Duke Coffeehouse in Durham when they were but a wee little Chapel Hill indie phenomena. At a quiet moment, few that there were, I even had the joy of rather loudly activating Matt Gentling's E string with an empty and mobile can of Busch (the Coffeehouse was BYOB, you see). I don't think that I have ever been to a better show than some of these early Archers hoe-downs.
First of all, Seconds Before the Accident is a live record, something requisite for any successful band it seems. Unfortunately, this album doesn't really capture the rawness and noise of a live Archers show. Admittedly, I saw them in Buffalo a few years ago and was disappointed in the growing sense of contemplation and the loss of action at their live shows, so perhaps my reading of this CD simply follows those lines. If you are a die-hard Archer's fan, Seconds Before the Accident must go into your collection. Even if you're new to the Archers and their multi-layered sonics, this would be a good introduction. Seconds Before the Accident was recorded at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill in 1998, so this show was guaranteed a doting and loving audience. But it showcases very little of the spontaneity of a live show, whether that be musical improvisation or audience interaction. What this CD does show, though, is the brilliant cohesiveness of the Archers. Even live, the album comes off with the tightness (and production) of a studio release.
Almost one third of the tracks come from the Archers's first release Icky Mettle. Maybe the nature of the local audience demanded that they cover the oldies in their catalog, or maybe these tracks simply rocked the hardest. If nothing else, the years have tightened these songs and sent them out of the sound system even louder and cleaner than before.
I'm afraid to say that the Archers have run their course. White Trash Heros, for example, lacked the wall of guitar layers that defined the Archer's sound on earlier albums. Some of the spirit of noise, bitterness, and fun seemed to be gone. Eric Bachmann's side projects such as Barry Black (and recently, Crooked Fingers) display a musical expansion outside of the guitar-laced indie Archers sound (go buy the first Barry Black CD, that's an order!). Their split seems appropriately timed, and, for me, bittersweet. Aptly titled, Seconds Before the Accident comes out, then, as their swan song. But as a last gasp, Seconds Before the Accident doesn't try any new gimmicks hoping for some resuscitation. Rather, the Archers simply mow through great songs from the last six years leaving me wishing that I had seen them just one last time, somewhere, somehow. They split at the right time, but, like an Indie Formula car into a wall, they didn't stop until it was over. As Seconds Before the Accident proves, they kept rocking -- loud -- right to the end.