Alternately dissonant and melodic, cacophonous yet inarguably tuneful, Chapel Hill's Archers of Loaf were one of the greatest guitar bands to emerge from the indie-rock underground of the early Nineties. Taking cues from their hometown comrades in Polvo and the six-string battles between Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, Archers guitarists Eric Bachmann and Eric Johnson fused twisted riffs with winding, angular leads that wedded free-jazz skronk with glistening power pop. And vocalist Bachmann also wrote 'em as well as he played 'em, venting his insecurities and romantic frustration on a slew of singles and albums, including the monumental 1995 set Vee Vee, which remains a benchmark of the era.
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Like many of their contemporaries, the Archers called it quits as indie rock lost steam in the late Nineties. The band's power and sonic fury are amply documented, though, on Seconds Before the Accident, a tremendous live set recorded in 1998 before an adoring hometown crowd. With a playlist that spans the group's voluminous output, Seconds works as an overview of the Archers' gloriously skewed vision and a testament to the throttling rhythm section of bassist Matt Gentling and drummer Mark Price. (Their work on the snarling, unconventionally structured Let the Loser Melt and Lowest Part Is Free, in particular, is stunning.)
Still, it's Bachmann's unique songwriting, his hoarse, howling vocals, and those shrieking guitars that set the Archers apart from the legion of oddball experimentalists, from Guided by Voices to Pavement. You and Me and Web in Front each pair angst-ridden lyrics with sheets of piercing, explosive guitar, relentless drumming, and a bass that holds things together as it wanders around the warped riffs. Both songs are emblematic of the Archers' unique ability to turn noise into something beautiful, to make the weird something as intriguing as it is peculiarly catchy. It was music the world deserved to hear, but sadly, widespread success eluded them. As Seconds Before the Accident makes clear, the Archers of Loaf deserved better.