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The Speed of Cattle


Archers of Loaf



Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

Here we are on the fourth release of our comprehensive Archers of Loaf review. Astute readers will notice that this took a bit longer than some of the other reviews. And that is because The Speed of Cattle is a rarities compilation. You know, a CD released to capitalize on the popularity of an act by making available tunes that they did not think were good enough for a regular release.

Sometimes you find out that a band had a lot of brilliant stuff in the works that, for one reason or another, never got a regular release, and sometimes you find that the unreleased material probably needed to stay that way. Most releases are kind of in the middle, but The Speed of Cattle is in the first category. That is, this gathers together a bunch of songs that all but the most devout of fans will not really care about.

That said, i never listened to this release a lot, i guess due to it being so very hit or miss. Still, since that slave driver Brendan is demanding a review, i ripped this to my Zune and gave it a few spins. My opinion of it has not changed, but let's go over the songs just the same.

  Back when I first acquired The Speed of Cattle (which was circa 1997, based on the price sticker on the CD), this was one of my favorite rarities records. I recall loving the rawness of the tunes and I especially enjoyed Eric Bachmann's comments on each of the songs/recordings involved. Unfortunately, as this commentary is on the CD sleeve, this means that should you be listening via a 21st century technology (e.g,. iPod or Zune), you're missing the best part of this record. And, quite frankly, with the intervening years, The Speed of Cattle is something of a hard slog.  

The Archers start the compilation off on a promising note with Wrong. Two guitars chug away, one growling and one angular, while the rhythm section plays something catchy and with a mid tempo beat while Big E growls. It builds to a nice high on the chorus with all the band bellowing and the cymbals crashing.

The second song, South Carolina is also a winner. It features a jangly guitar bit that reminds me a bit of What Goes On by The Velvet Underground, and i must say this is the first time in this experiment in re-listening to the Archers that i have thought of The Velvets. Huh. A catchy tune, even if it does appear to sing the praises of "The Wrong Carolina".

  Per the handy dandy liner notes, these recordings of both Wrong and South Carolina were released by a now defunct magazine. In that context, these early, pre Icky Mettle recordings make sense. As an example, Wrong seems to feature Bachmann singing in a slightly higher register than usual. Likewise, the cymbals are very loud while the rest of the instrumentation seems a bit muddier than most Archers' songs. Similarly, South Carolina also has a fuzziness that is belied by the fact that Bachmann's voice is mixed at the forefront of the recording.  

A lo-fi demo of Web In Front really doesn't add anything to the official version. They must have really dug far in the archives for this version, because at the end the song goes through a type of distortion that i can remember as "tape warp". It sounds like this song was digitized from an old cassette that at one point spun out, and had to be rewound using a pencil through the spindle. Remember those days kids?

  Again, per the liner notes, this version of Web in Front was recorded at practice one day. Therefore the extreme lo-fi nature of this demo makes more senses. I must confess that, although back in the Icky Mettle review, I said I prefer this version, I lied. Listening to it again with fresh ears (and in the middle of reviewing the entire Archers of Loaf catalog), this recording is really more of a curiosity that is enhanced by the fact that you can actually make out the lyrics due to the slowness of the beat.  

The next tune is The Archers channeling their Dead Kennedys fetish, a loud, fast punk tune called Bathroom. However, in the middle they throw in a guitar solo a la early Eddie Van Halen over this fast, grinding tune. How odd.

Tatyana is the first song on this compilation that does not seem to come from their distant past. In fact, to me this sounds like an outtake from All the Nations Airports, the record they would release six months after this compilation. It is slower and has the guitar interplay that characterized that album. However, Bachmann does this really annoying tremolo thing with his voice on the chorus that makes it completely clear why this was put on this compilation and not included on the album.

  Ironically, if the compilation notes are to be believed, Tatyana was one of the first songs ever written by the Archers of Loaf. This means that in fact this song was from the band's distance past. In that context, this tune becomes a bit more interesting because it does feel like a future tune by the band, which suggests that the musical elements that characterized the "mature" Archers of Loaf sound (circa All the Nations Airports and White Trash Heroes) were always present and lurking in the band.  

On What Did You Expect? there is a backing vocal part that reminds of Superchunk's Mac MacCaughan. Granted, both bands were making music in Chapel Hill during this time period, and this song does seem to have a certain Superchunkishness to it, but is that really him? Either way, a decent song, even if it does lack the angularity of the usual Archers guitarwork

  To add to the Superchunk connection, this song was actually put out by Merge Records as a single. So, in essence, I tend to agree with PostLibyan that there is a strong connection between those two Chapel Hill bands. And I'm almost totally convinced that Mac MacCaughan is in fact singing in the background, even though I can't find a vocal credit for him anywhere.  

Ethel Merman is a decent tune with guitars clattering in layers. A Vee Vee outtake?

It is back to All the Nations Airports for Funnelhead which has come good guitar interplay.

  A-ha! Funnelhead is actually a cover of Treehead song. "Treehead?", you may ask. They were one of Doug Martsch's pre-Built to Spill bands. Interesting.  

Quinn Beast starts minimally, just Big E and guitar, then grows nicely. And on the chorus, there is a female voice shouting along with the band. Who is that?

  And in a fit of synchronicity, it turns out that Quinn Beast was released as a split single with...Treehead. Suddenly, the pairing of this song with the one before make sense.  

On Telepathic Traffic one of the guitars is acoustic, which is not very common for The Archers. I like the way the acoustic contrasts with the electric. Well, except when the electric adds some Overdrive, at which point that is all you hear. This song has some potential, perhaps with some different electric effects it could be good.

There is the sound of a dog howling far in the background at the intro to Don't Believe The Good News. This is a slow, meandering song featuring Big E singing through distortion. It doesn't really do anything for me.

The autobiographical (for the band) instrumental Smokin' Pot In The Hot City is next. This moves along at a crisp pace, but seems a little like it doesn't have vocals more because they couldn't think of what to add than that they designed it this way. That is, i keep expecting Bachmann to chime in at some point. Still, it's not bad.

Mutes In The Steeple sounds like what The Archers were to do on their final album, White Trash Heroes. It is slow, has piano, and Bachmann warbles his way through the vocals, instead of the howl that was his normal mode. Obviously this is one of their first stabs at this sound, and they were to do it better later.

  I'd agree with this assessment.  In their later days, Archers of Loaf  managed to slow things down and go mellower.  This sounds like them attempting to find their footwork and not quite succeeding.  If anything, this really proceeds Bachmann's work in Crooked Fingers or the like.  
  Revenge features the guitarwork trying to emulate the booming western-influenced sound of Jason and the Scorchers, while combining that with Bachmann's angry bellow. They, wisely, never tried anything like this again. They apparently played this at a Peel Session.  
  As Postlibyan notes, this versionRevenge was recorded as a Peel Session and it's much more gritty than the version found on Greatest of all Time. Anyway, the two prior songs (as well as two of the later songs) also were recorded for Peel. In some ways, as a meta-review point, this shows how Peel Sessions were always a bit hit or miss for any band. Some artists (such as Billy Bragg, or even The Pogues) sounded at least as good on Peel as they did in "normal" recordings. Others…well…let's just call them misses, and let it go at that.  
  Bacteria is an almost seven minute mashup of what The Archers are all about. It has some math rock noodling, some punk riffing, but in general just never seems to go anywhere. It just takes a long time to never go anywhere.  
  Fundamentally, the title track of White Trash Heroes aside, one does not listen to Archers of Loaf for long, noodly sonic exploration. I think this one could wrap itself up at about 3 minute mark (like so many Archers tunes) and you'd get the point.  

Freezing Point is a kind of catchy tune. The guitars build slowly to a whine.

Powerwalker features the band playing sludgy punk a la mid-era Black Flag while Bachmann mocks exercise walkers. Where is Speed Walker when you need him to kick someone's ass?

And, finally, we end things up with Backwash, a faster song that is much like Bacteria in that it seems a generic Archers song.

After listening to this several times for this review, i have to say that i will delete most of these tracks from my Zune and probably never hear them again. And that's fine. Your mileage may vary, of course. I am curious as to how Malimus, who is a huge Archers fanboy, views this record. I think it is only for the diehard fans.

  Well, I’m not as much as a Archers fanboy as Malimus, but I was definitely a huge fan back in the day. Having said that, though, as much as I loved The Speed of Cattle when I first heard it all those years ago, I've got to agree with Postlibyan in that most of these tunes and/or recordings are only interesting to the die-hard fan. And clearly, these days, I do not qualify. Given a chance, this one goes back on the shelf. I'll excavate it in a couple of years and see how it holds up then. But, now, outside of the first three songs, not so much.  
Related Links:

Artist: (fan site)
Also on EvilSponge:
   Album: Icky Mettle
   EP: Vs. The Greatest of All Time
   Album: Vee Vee
   Album: All the Nations Airports
   Album: White Trash Heroes
   Live Album: Seconds before the Accident


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