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White Trash Heroes


Archers of Loaf



Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

By the time White Trash Heroes was released, I was a dedicated Archers of Loaf fan. I'd seen them in concert and I had all their previous albums. As such, I had strong notions as to what the band's recorded output should sound like. Suffice to say, upon first listen I found White Trash Heroes a little off-putting. In fact, I seem to remember thinking, "Wow, this is depressing and it doesn't sound much like the Archers I know and love", which led me to put the album on the shelf, never to be brought down again. For the last twelve plus years, if I wanted an Archers fix, I returned to Icky Mettle or Vee Vee, while White Trash Heroes remained happily in its case, gathering dust.

But since the ever-so-persistent Brendan Sponge insisted we work our way through all of the Archers releases prior to their reunion show in Atlanta, I was elected to be the first Minion to pull down White Trash Heroes and reconsider it.

Having now re-listened to the record a few times, I have come to several new (and old) conclusions. First, White Trash Heroes does in fact have a depressing, dark undertone. Second, although back in the day I though the album was a complete deviation from the Archers' work which had come before, in listening to it back to back with all the other releases, most of the songs have roots within the Archers' catalogue. Thirdly, when I hear the Archers I want to sing along with the band and, frankly, there isn't much on this album to bounce and sing to. That doesn't make it a bad record; it just makes it a little less accessible.

So, in the spirit of the other reviews, let's look at these tunes one by one.

The album begins with Fashion Bleeds, which has a nicely martial drumbeat that thuds underneath some brisk guitar chording along with an ominously heavy bassline. After a bit, Eric Bachmann chimes in, singing in an unaffected mid-tone. After a somewhat extended musical interlude, suddenly I hear what sounds like a higher-pitched keyboard bit that provides a counter-melody to Bachmann's renewed vocals. Taken alone, this tune feels like a combination of the narrative song structure in which the Archers specialized with a slight tinge of their heavier side (think Fabricoh).

From there, the album moves directly into the very slow, very organ heavy Dead Red Eyes. Again, the organ drones gives the tune a minor-keyed feel while the higher-pitched vocals only emphasize the melancholy. Once the entire band kicks in, the bass comes to the forefront and almost overwhelms the vocals and the keys, thereby keeping the tone positively dirgey and sinister.


I really like this tune. I like the layers of sinister keyboarding that dominate the first half, and that bass line that comes through in the middle is wonderful. This is not typical of the Archers, but it is a fun song.


I.N.S. follows. Unlike that which has come before, this is a loud thrashy tune complete with vocals sent through a vocoder of some sort. Ironically, this is a tune that I can't really place within the Archers songbook (or the songbooks of any of the band member's later acts). Rather, with its off-kilter drumming and shrill guitarwork, I'm reminded more of an early tune by a band like the Poster Children.

The Archers slow things back down with Perfect Time. It's a less sinister and dark tune than Dead Red Eyes with a more narrative lyrical structure and a fairly straight-forward melody. Nevertheless, the emphatic drumming and ever-present bassline keeps things from being too light hearted. Still, despite the lack of any poppy pretentions, this tune is probably the easiest listening I can find on the entire record.

The deliberately slow pace continues with Slick Tricks and Bright Lights. With a gentle sway and Bachmann singing in a precise falsetto, the song starts with a promising melody. But as the song progresses, the instruments become louder and more effected, giving everything a very bluesy feel that darkens the skies mightily over the Archers camp, making me think I'm metaphorically listening to a weather forecaster explaining we have a 90% chance of severe thunderstorms in the near future and I should head to the basement now.


Bachmann's southern accent (he is of the North Carolina mountain people, after all) shines through here. Combined with the pompous bluesiness of the song, this comes across like the Archers trying to cover .38 Special or something. Ugh.


And then we take a left turn into the plain weird with One Slight Wrong Move. Beginning with sounds like off-key organs and some programming effects, Bachmann sings over it all like a 80s rock star. The tune continues along in a straight-forward blues-rock influenced riff until, in another fit of 80s-esque synchronicity, a vocoder-ed voices chimes in lowly, "A hundred million people can be wrong". It's so early 80s rock star (Dire Straits, anyone?) that you almost have to stop and laugh.;

  Actually, i like this tune up until the vocoder comes in, and then i have flashbacks of being stuck listening to Peter Frampton in the 1970s, and i cannot continue. Just remember kids, a vocoder can make an average song terrible, in just seven short words! Just say no to vocoders.  

And then we stay in weird-land with the screech-fest that is Banging on a Dead Drum, which is like the Archers of Loaf fronted by a refugee from an early 80s heavy metal vocalist. Seriously, my throat closes up just hearing the wear going into Bachmann's vocals on this one. Still, it's not a fast as I.N.S. and, except for those vocals, could be a nice enough tune. But, on its own, and right after the 80s blues rock which came before, it's almost headache inducing.


This is one song, out of all the songs in the world, that does not need more cowbell. Seriously, what is up with the rhythm here?


But just when I'm scared to go back into the water, we hit the instrumental Smokers in Love. I'm certain that back in 1998, I hated this song. These days, I have to say, it ages well. The guitars are mathy and angular, and the opening riff certainly influenced The Orphins' sublime Tundra. The drums and bass don't overwhelm the higher melodies. It doesn't go all noodly in the middle. In fact, I might just call this tune "Polvo-riffic".


I like the use of the ebow here -- it adds a nice drone.


The penultimate tune is After the Last Laugh, which returns to narrative structure and relative slowness of Perfect Time. The pace is relatively restrained, but the guitar arpeggios keep things flowing, so that things don't drag. Likewise, the keys which seem ever-present throughout the album remain an accent note on this one. And after the falsetto and screams of the vocals on the earlier song, it's nice to hear Bachmann back to his usual gravelly growl. The only thing that's a little odd about the tune is the shout-along chorus that ends everything; but it's a minor quibble on a rather strong offering.


The Archers used cheesy sing-along choruses before, most notably on Underachievers March and Fight Song, and i think it adds a spot of much needed goofiness in this somber, strange record.


And then everything (including the Archer's time as a band) comes to a close with the keyboard-driven White Trash Heroes. More than anything else on this record, this title track really points forward to the singer-songwriting offerings Eric Bachmann would later produce as Crooked Fingers (go listen to New Drink for the Old Drunk and get back to me). The melody is held down by low-pitched keys as Bachmann tells his story, ala Greatest of All Time. The other instruments seem there to almost keep the rhythm going, as the focus is on the lyrics with the references to techno-bars and white liquor wine. Although you may want things to build to a cathartic final hurrah, it's not on offer with the tune; rather, the lyrical narrative concludes and the music continues. Instruments gradually fall out, until at long long last, the only thing left is an effected guitar slowly repeating the base melody. And then it's all over: the song, the album, and Archers of Loaf. It's a heavy burden for any song, but White Trash Heroes is, believe it or not, up to the task.


Agreed. This is a dark yet epic tune.


If you've made it this far, you may think that I absolutely hate White Trash Heroes. I don't. If anything, after the intervening years, I respect more what Archers of Loaf were doing by branching out on this album. And you get the feeling that, had the band stayed together, some of the trial efforts seen on this record really would have come together on the next album. But, in the end, taken in its own context White Trash Heroes feels kind of scattershot, without the unity found in the other Archers' releases.


There are a few good moments here, but this is the weakest of their studio albums. Still, it shows that they were trying to grow, even at the end.


Archers of Loaf have one more release, the live testament Seconds Before the Accident, which Malimus reviewed back in 2001. You can look over that if you would like, but i am not going to make the Minions prepare a new review of it.

So there, in five reviews, is the catalog of Archers of Loaf, a strange, noisy band from North Carolina. The Minions are seeing them perform live at The EARL on Friday 22 and Saturday 23 July (yes, these geeks got tickets to tgwo shows!), so check back for a review of the shows.

Related Links:

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


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