Archers of Loaf – Icky Mettle (2CD Remastered)

January 01, 1970



The suddenly seminal 1993 debut LP from Eric Bachmann and
his scrappy, Carolina-bred bandmates in Archers of Loaf, was always one of indie/college
rock’s absolute best albums. If this reissue cements that perception wide, then
hats off to it. But, more importantly, Merge’s two-disc Icky Mettle disc – apropos slight packaging and all – justifies
itself through every mammoth rhythmic thump and wiry bit of white noise in Bob
Weston’s new mastering job, all of which are final, aural arguments toward the
record’s inherent greatness.


Anyone who’s seen Archers or any Bachmann incarnation – most
notably Crooked Fingers, of course – live knows that even if the redwood of a
man sings about some woman who’s “an indie rocker” and how “nothing’s gonna
stop her” on Icky Mettle opener “Web
in Front,” there’s more than a bit of wiseass in that remark, whereas your
average modern-day Death Cab acolyte might write that lyric and really mean it.
Because, in fact, Bachmann is simply a rocker. And Icky Mettle rocks. Hard. It’s a quality that Weston and the band
apparently, and insatiably, chose to make clear once they got a second stab at
turning the key in this particular ignition.


It’s a thrilling redemption. Circa nearly two decades ago,
only Superchunk’s similarly reissued On
the Mouth
complemented Archers’ opening 13-song blast (originally released
on the fantastic Alias Records, who are more than due for a retrospective
homage of their own) as indie-rock cornerstones that were unashamedly in touch
with their inner punk while being kind of, sort of ready to grow up.  Held against a document like Icky Mettle, emo is anathema (witness:
the cutting depression of “You and Me”), hardcore is kid’s stuff (see: the
rampaging, why-not? “Sick File”) and hit songs are just a few proper tunings
away (e.g. the irrepressible, clever “Might”).


Bachmann, understandably, was Icky Mettle‘s magnet on initial release, an aloof laureate with
tremendous songwriting gifts. And we all know what he’s accomplished since as a
serious folk artist with Crooked Fingers and under his own name. But it’s
spritely bassist Matt Gentling and overworked timekeeper Matt Price who come to
fore on the reissue. Aside from all the distorted creaks and crannies that
finally pop out during the almost excruciatingly tense buildup to pure rock
fury at the climax of “Toast” and color outside the lines of would-be
freshman-dorm classics like “Wrong,” Icky
part deux is all about
emphasizing the album’s loud, edgy, paranoid aggression. Closing track “Slow
Worm” might be a rare exception, but it’s also the obvious ender. By that
point, Bachmann and co. sound like they’ve simply run out of gas, piss, vinegar
and wit. Especially after the penultimate “Backwash,” arguably Icky Mettle‘s finest and most epic
three-plus minutes, and also its most transparent portending of Bachmann’s
eventual Springsteen-ian metamorphosis.


Liner notes, courtesy of a surprisingly fawning Robert
Christgau, are relatively scant, and the bonus disc is all material from the Greatest of all Time EP and Speed of Cattle odds-and-ends collection
that was must-own stuff while Archers was still active (and in the case of Greatest cuts such as “Audiowhore,”
still essential). They don’t benefit from quite the same studio retro-fit as
core Icky tracks, but their
scruffiness was, and is, part of their charm as mostly B-sides and
afterthoughts. Plus, the included selections – “Powerwalker,” “What Did You
Expect?” “Tatyana” etc. – demonstrate just how canny these guys are in their
good taste. And as two-fer uploads to your iPods go, the 27 songs at one’s
disposal in this single offing make for absolutely airtight, can’t-lose


of it. Now. But especially the first disc. KENNY HERZOG


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