Eric Bachmann’s Short Careers poses this question: is it possible to release a brilliant, challenging, sweeping album that no one cares about? In some ways Short Careers may be Mr. Bachmann’s finest musical hour. Then again, the odds are just as strong that it may also be his least listened to creation. At this point some of you are either dying to find out what could be powerful enough to receive such gilded words, while others are wondering just who the hell Eric Bachmann is.
Bachmann was the front man and co-founder of mid-’90s indie and college radio heroes Archers of Loaf. The Loaf was Superchunks’ weird, artsy cousin that lived in a shack only venturing out for pints of Jack Daniels and to rock venues to their core. Despite scoring a minor hit with their brilliant debut single “Web in Front”, possibly the song put on most mixtapes in the late ’90s, Archers of Loaf maintained a core audience by belying their pop sensibility with shards of jagged noise. Their forays into less accessible terrain helped fortify their fan base, who was thrilled that one of their own was not going to go down the radio play road into hell.
After the Loaf’s demise in 1998, Bachmann re-invented himself as Crooked Fingers. Crooked Fingers was quite a departure from Archers of Loaf. Bachmann appeared all by his lonesome, stripped away the noise and complexity of his past, and revealed a tongue of gold adept at spinning tales of characters so forlorn, so bitter, so heartbroken that they all seemed to exist in a Flannery O’Connor tale. Archers of Loaf were somewhat famous for their indecipherable lyrics; Bachmann was shockingly obvious with Crooked Fingers. The songs also displayed a newfound love of roots, folk, the slide guitar and the steel pedal — the work was spellbinding. Considering that each song released by Crooked Fingers painted a detailed story, it would make sense that Bachmann’s next step would be in the way of creating the soundtrack for a movie.
Short Careers is the score to the independently released movie Filmball of Wax, which tells the story of a baseball players journey from stardom to depravity. The first thing to understand about this release is that it is indeed a score, not a soundtrack. So if you were looking for some new, unreleased Crooked Fingers tracks, or maybe even an Archers of Loaf gem unearthed, look somewhere else. The first track, movement, whatever you wanna call it, “Good Morning Sleepyhead” is in a word beautiful, opening with lazy violins it instantly paints the picture of waking up on a beautiful spring morning knowing you have nothing to do but play. Bachmann’s ability to lead an orchestra of Andrej Curly on violin, Eunice Kang on cello, Wade Rittenberry on upright bass, Maria Taylor on chord changes, and Evan Thomas on drums is remarkable. The musicians can all play and are in sync throughout the album deftly following Bachmann’s path. The second track “Forks and Knives” is as dark as the opening track was wondrous, with an evilness that permeates the track. On “A Diamond is the Devil’s Eye” and “Finding the Holes Filling the Gaps” you can hear the sounds of someone spiraling into madness. While there are lighter moments Bachmann never returns to the opening track, instead providing the soundtrack to what seems like a very dark movie.
What Bachmann had done is indeed impressive. To go from indie-rock noise maker to soundtrack scorer is no easy task, yet Bachmann has done it. Musically this is light years beyond anything he’s ever done, displaying a coherency and vision that he never even winked at on past endeavors. The vision and ability to convey a wide range of emotions are not even in the same continent as what he’s done. Still, am I ever going to listen to this? I mean I love everything Bachmann’s done, and I whole heartedly endorse this as possibly his finest achievement, but I also love the Star Wars score and I couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve listened to it. I mean how often do you want to listen to a musical score? Maybe when you’re reading, but then you’re going to miss out on the subtleties. So, while Bachmann has produced a brilliant score, I’m not so sure if anyone is going to being paying attention.