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Eric Bachmann knocks it out of the park with self-titled LP

Merge Records
"Eric Bachmann" is the new solo disc from former Archers of Loaf frontman.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Eric Bachmann – Eric Bachmann (Merge) 2016

Kill your idols and your fables, take your weapons off the table, it’s only mercy now that you need in your world” sings Eric Bachmann on “Mercy,” the stand-out track on his new eponymous solo LP, released on Merge, the label that embraced his old band Archers of Loaf by lovingly remastering and re-releasing their 1990’s output in recent years and leading to a reunion in 2011, which was followed by the excellent, live Curse of the Loaf double LP, released last year.

But this song is not a blistering, smart-alecky, angsty indie-rock number, as any aging-slackerish Archers fan will tell you. No, on this particular song, with its Phil Spector-ish drum intro, is a life-affirming track in that points out – against a goosebump-inducing doo-wop musical backdrop – that despite all the chaos and violence in the world, we have the capacity to kind and merciful to one another, despite rampant despair.

Continues Bachmann: “I don’t believe in Armageddon, heaven, hell or time regrettin’

If anything, this towering figure is at heart a humanist. Most of the stuff “they” throw at us is the detritus of inanity and insanity. Bachmann is just calling ‘em out on it.

The writing is still very much there on Eric Bachmann, as is the music, although now it is quieter, more contemplative. The slide guitar on “Small Talk” is accompanied by Bachmann’s warm-yet-worldly voice and some fitting, 60’s-style soul background singing. That last feature adds a lot to the Bruce Springsteen-styled ambiance of the music that is otherwise Bachmann’s baritone and a piano, with some keyboard-style sounds included.

With Eric Bachmann, there is a spare, haunting quality about the music that brings to mind Daniel Lanois’s work on the 1996 Sling Blade soundtrack. In fact this whole album could accompany a film quite well – a film about a man who has forged his own path in life and is now at a critical point in his life where he can look back, having learned much, while pressing on to the future. All while embracing the now.

(Oh, I should mention that Bachmann did the score for the weird 2003 baseball film Ball of Wax – and with his new album, the front cover features Bachmann as a boy wearing a baseball uniform. I see a theme here).

Pedal steel helps enhance an already very touching opening song – “Belong to You.”

The song “Modern Drugs,” with its springy, George Winston-like piano chords( that’s him on those 88’s, having also worked alongside Neko Case when she tours) builds over the course of the song, with lightly-played drums and guitar in the background. And yes, Bachmann’s vocals are always (web in) front and center. And that’s refreshing.

“Dreaming” is just that, Bachmann reminiscing and dreaming about his past “in the yellow pines” when “the world was an open door” when he was a child and the world was new. This song is another key track on this subtly beautiful record.

For those who did not follow Bachmann’s work in Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Archers of Loaf, or later with Crooked Fingers, Bachmann has been honing his songwriting gift quite swimmingly. He has aged with those of us who cranked up Archers songs like “Harnessed in Slums” or “South Carolina,” a song included on the Gen X-oriented My So-Called Life soundtrack. Listening to Bachmann sing reminds me of catching up with an old friend.

And speaking of the Palmetto State, Bachmann takes us back (most likely to his homestate of North Carolina this time) on “Carolina.” This is one of the more uptempo tracks on the record and similar to the work of Jackson Browne acolytes Dawes.

And “Separation Fight” is one of those lighter songs that brings a smile to your face, while the quietly political "Masters of the Deal" brings to mind the work of Bruce Hornsby, another incredibly talented singer/songwriter from neighboring Virginia who has never backed down from writing about that distinctly Southern style of hate and injustice.

Do we get anything like the Archers’ “Floating Friends” (the excellent astral plane song on the Archers 1995 album Vee Vee) or Icky Mettle’s “Plumbline?” No, that stuff is pretty much in Bachmann’s rearview mirror, old man.

Eric Bachmann is an amazingly listenable album with a decidedly autumnal and reflective vibe that works even when listened to on a sunny summer day.

Eric Bachmann is currently on tour, promoting this terrific new album. He is currently on the west coast playing gigs in San Francisco (June 3), Los Angeles (June 4) and San Diego (June 6).

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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