Eric Bachmann wrote the single most memorable opening line of the ’90s: “Stuck a pin in your backbone / Spoke it down from there / All I ever wanted was to be your spine.” What followed was “Web in Front”, just over two minutes of inexhaustible melodies and hooks that ultimately indemnified Archers of Loaf’s status in the nascent stages of indie rock lore. Inadequately compared to Pavement, Archers of Loaf wrote songs in the key of noise and strange tunings, Archers of Loaf contrasted Pavement’s smug, ironic swagger. They were relatable despite their funny name. What anchored the band most of all was Bachmann’s recognizable guttural growl. Endearing, the band’s songs buoyed at the surface of the sonic chaos.
Leaving his mark on indie rock in a subtle way, Bachmann went on to call his post-Loaf project, Crooked Fingers, which continued his melodically laden leanings. One of Merge Records oldest artists on its hall-of-fame list, Crooked Fingers fashioned itself different from its cult predecessor. In spite of the band’s rotating lineup, what stood out was Bachmann’s songwriting. A child-like innocence and youthful optimism remained. Imagine Peter Pan fronting one of the coolest musical outfits unconcerned with popularity and numbers of Instagram followers. Even in his 40s, he draws listeners in with the same earnestness and charm he exhibited in his 20s.
Eric Bachmann’s eponymous album demonstrates the continued allure. Happily wearing an orange baseball jersey, wielding a baseball bat, and an ear-to-ear grin, the album cover resembles the album’s overall tone of joy and reflection. Bachmann truly loves music, and he proudly wears his influences on his sleeves. The memorable Phil Spector doo-wop opening in “Mercy” stylistically differs from any of his previous projects. Other than his voice, what else remains familiar is his lyrics. The track instructs the person to whom it is penned that in spite of having friends and family from Alaska to Miami, people say crazy shit from time to time. Like families, being offended happens whether people seek it out or not.
Bachmann’s best produced album to date holds fast to country music’s golden age and its production. Piano-heavy ballads, “Masters of the Deal” and “Small Talk”, contain the spirit of Gram Parson’s songwriting and Randy Newman’s ineffable wordplay. “Masters of the Deal” sounds eerily reminiscent to “Scenic Pasture’s” unforgettable opening guitar riff, but aged and slowed to reflect Bachmann’s current frame of mind. Heartfelt, the melody mirrors the haunting imagery of a relationship in demise: “So betrayed in a shell game / Where the jury all agree / All they leave are ghost/Attached to two I.V.’s.” His doomed protagonist, Wanda Jean, exists to teach the importance of empathy even in the worst conditions.
Part-time pianist for Neko Case, Bachmann favors the black and whites over the guitar throughout the album. His songs resemble his contemporaries’ immersion into Baroque arrangements. Working with Saddle Creek luminaries drawn to the country rock’s relaxed arrangements, “Carolina” favors sing along harmonies and balanced instrumentation. Certainly, Bachmann’s voice is out front, and it needs to be, but never at the expense of the song.
Block chords ring discreetly beneath one Bachmann’s most fragile deliveries in his long, accomplished career, “Old Temptation”. Lonely forces painful reflections that lead to even more painful resolutions, and when he sings “Took you time to recover / To never be the same”, the song’s speaker resigns himself to the loneliness of bad memories that haunt indefinitely. The album’s melancholiest track leaves carefully reminds his fans of how he continues to master his craft without ever compromising his essence.