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All the Nations Airports


Archers of Loaf


Elektra / WEA

Release Date:


Reviewed by:
  PostLibyan and Tracers  

This was the Archer's major label debut, and for whatever reason i just never got into it.

Well, actually, this came out a few months after Milk and Kisses by Cocteau Twins, and i spent a long time listening to that record. Plus, well, this was in the era before Internet-distributed MP3s. I remember that there was this band i heard on the radio and i really wanted to get their album, but no store in Atlanta had it. I nagged employees for months, and finally got the CD. The band was Modest Mouse, and now when that kind of thing happens i can find a download or a web store that sells it, while back then i spent months trying to find the record. This was only fifteen years ago, but music distribution has changed so much! Anyway, when i finally got that first Modest Mouse CD, it lived in my car and was all i listened to for a few months.

So All the Nations Airports kind of got lost in the musical shuffle of that year (also included: great records by Tortoise, Soundgarden, Soul Coughing, Hooverphonic, DJ Shadow, etc.). The point is that even though i have had this album a long time, i have never been really familiar with it like i am with the rest of the Archer's catalog.

That said, here are my impressions before going back and listening to it:

  • The title track is damned catchy. Former EARL sound guy Curt Wells hums it whenever he flies, and, thanks to an offhand comment by him, the song was stuck in my head when i flew to Vegas for Brillo's wedding this past New Year's....
  • The album all flows together into one long mix. That is, put the CD on and the songs just flow one into the other. This was something people used to do on albums, but it doesn't work in the era of MP3 players and random shuffle.
  • It is a little more slickly produced than the previous records, but that is to be expected on a major label debut.
  Seriously, All the Nations Airports is a record that got lost in the shuffle, so to speak. For me, I think the fact that it came right after the brilliant Vee Vee meant that I never gave this one the credit it was due. However, I have to admit that as I listened to this again in review mode, I actually know most of this album by heart. So I know I must have listened to this a lot back in the day, but as I said, it just didn't register. And looking back, that's a durn shame.  

So let's put it back in the player and go over it completely.

The record starts with Strangled By The Stereo Wire. Bachmann sings in a deep voice while the guitars alternately jangle and grind. It builds into a catchy mess with a syncopated drum beat. An auspicious start to the record.

The title track is next, a song that mentions both drunk pilots and terrorist scum, while seeming to express frustration at waiting in security lines. And yet, this song is five years pre-9/11. Is Big E a prophet, predicting the ludicrousness of current airport security theater? Huh. Well, anyway, the rhythm here is great, just chugging along. A great tune.

  If someone references this album to me, I can't help but begin singing "Shuffling through…all the nations airports…" It's truly a great and resonant pop tune that is both simple in its construction yet contains a memorable hook around which the tune is built. And it starts with the "Thud thud" of the bassline (a technique which seems to have replaced the "thump thump" of the drums as a standard Archers' intro).  

And then the Archers give us a pure pop song in Scenic Pastures, but of course within the context of their two guitar framework. There is a really lovely instrumental break down at the end, with the two guitars chiming against one another.


I forgot how pretty this song is, especially in the Archers' context. It's doesn't have the layers of distortion that, by this time, had started to dominate the Archers' sound. However, it does have the strongly punctuated rhythms that give a slight edginess to the overall sound. But, taken as whole, Scenic Pastures is an absolutely lovely examine if North Carolina Indie jangle pop in the late 90s.


The next three "songs" all sort of blur together, which i think is why my memory of this record is that it was one long mix. the first part of this "mega-song" is called Worst Defense, and it starts with a nice bass riff, then Bachman comes in. I like the guitar work here, the two guitars chugging against the percussion. And then the rhythm changes ever so slightly, and i look at my Zune as see that we are now on Attack Of The Killer Bees. This middle part of the mega-song is the instrumental section where the guitars get all squeally. Eventually it slows back down again, and Bachmann slowly sings, "Rental Sting, the customer is king" over slowly arpeggioeing guitar. Rental Sting,is a nice, slow concluding movement to the mega-song. When i consider these three tracks as one song, it is a pretty good tune; but i think that none of the three parts stands as well on its own.

The next song, Assassination On X-Mas Eve is a mid-tempoed almost folk-like tune that reminds me of The Greatest of All Time from Vee Vee. This is Bachmann telling a strange story while the band kind of noodles around at a slower pace. It is decent enough.

And then, suddenly, there is a Crooked Fingers song on my Archers of Loaf album. Granted, both acts are fronted by Eric Bachmann, but Chumming The Ocean is a piano-tune with Bachmann crooning in his higher register over top. It sounds really melancholy to me, and kind of breaks the flow of the record. I listen to The Archers for guitar pop, dammit, not sad piano ballads.

  : I dunno. I suspect I’m more of a fan of this song that Postlibyan, if only because I'm a sucker for a 6/8 time signature. But, he's right in that this is a piano ballad in the best sense and certainly not the guitar pop for which Archers were renowned. As a side note, for some reason, whenever I think about this album, I've always (falsely) recalled Chumming the Ocean as the album ender. I wonder why that is?  

Fortunately when that fades out we have Vocal Shrapnel as pure of a pop tune as The Archers ever did. The guitars squeal, and yet there is a toe-tapping rhythm driving the whole thing along. The weird thing about this song is the vocals, which sound like Bachmann was singing in a closet, and then later layered over the music. No matter -- this is exactly what The Archers are about, and it really works.

  Ah….back to the punctuated rhythms and guitar work. This is more like what I want to hear. Bachman sings in his nice mid-range (and not the higher one that can be a little disconcerting or the lower one which sounds like he's ripped his voice out squealing through a vocoder) and there is a lot of space in this tune, in that you can hear faint pauses and empty seconds, all of which makes the song sound positively effusive.  

Bones Of Her Hands takes the guitar interplay of Vocal Shrapnel and speeds it up a bit. This makes it seem like more of a rock tune than the previous one, while at the same time bringing to mind Washing Machine-era Sonic Youth.

To break things up, the next rack is some kind of western instrumental, like The Archers wanted to try their hand at writing a spaghetti western soundtrack. They called it Bumpo, and it breaks up the flow without really contributing anything.

  Now we get to the heart of why I mentally ended All the Nations Airports back on Chumming the Ocean and Vocal Shrapnel. Nothing in this latter section is particularly out of place, but nothing is sheerly as memorable as that one-two punch of the tracks I just referenced. Certainly, by the time the band goes all Black Magic Woman in Bumpo, I’m thinking about hitting the fast-forward button.  

The next song starts with a sample of an answering machine message (for the younger readers -- this was a primitive form of voice mail that applied to land lines). The song is Form and File and Bachman's voice is deep here. I like the bass growl and the tinkling guitar lines that move at a slower pace, very close to Vocal Shrapnel. However, the answering machine sample just makes me think of Daydream Nation.

The instrumental Acromegaly starts with a rather nice guitar arpeggio which is shortly joined with the bass, just thumping away slowly. The other guitar chimes in the background, and it slowly builds, adding light drums towards the end of the second minute, and slowly growing as a fun instrumental.

Distance Comes In Droves is probably the strangest song on this record. It grows and moves in weird ways, like something by Slint, if Slint had a pop sensibility, which Archers clearly do, even here. This is a strange mathy post-rock tune that has a melody. Well, at times... at any rate, it's weird and i can't dance to it, but i like it.

And finally we wrap things up with Bombs Away, or "Chumming the Ocean, Part 2", which it should have been called.

  Oh yeah! And yet another reason why I thought Chumming the Ocean was the ender of the record!  

My final conclusion is that this is a fine alternapop record.  The second half drags a little bit, but it's actually pretty nice.

  It's true that neither of us ever really gave All the Nations Airports the credit it deserved. Much, if not most, of the record is solid and fun, but as PostLibyan points out, the second half is a bit draggy. Still, I should put this one into a more regular rotation in the future  
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: White Trash Heroes
   Live Album: Seconds before the Accident


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