Rockin' Our Turntable: Archie Powell & The Exports
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on May 1, 2014 4:10PM
Photo by Lucy Hewett
Archie Powell & The Exports' new album, Back In Black, is aptly named. It's the sound of a howling vortex sucking naked emotion down its funnel and sharpening it into screaming songs. The first time we listened to the album, we pictured it as being inside someone's head who was in the midst of a blackout. The thoughts race unconstrained and with no vision of what's coming in the future. It's the sound of what happens when you abandon your boundaries without realizing the price you'll pay the next day.
Archie Powell & The Exports have built a reputation of being good guys who create great party music with lots of heart. So to some, Back In Black may come as a bit of a surprise. The opening song, "Everything's Fucked," immediately announces we've entered into new territory with the band, filled with self-loathing, masturbation and the launch of that howling vortex. It feels as if you've turned a corner on the sidewalk only to be cartoonishly flattened by a Mack Truck. And you'd be forgiven if this causes you to stumble while you try and catch your bearings, but as you do we think you'll realize that the vertigo you feel isn't so much from the unexpected turn of the band as it is with the wall of unrestrained emotion flooding your ears.
"Tattoo On My Brain" follows and it's still a rager but it provides breathing space. But only until it's pushed aside by "Lean," that starts off innocently enough before breaking into primal scream territory. Where on previous albums the party was raging all throughout the album, this feels like what happens when you're smiling on the outside at the proceedings while trying to quell the actual emotions that push from behind your eyeballs. And halfway through the song we suddenly break into party mode as the narrator makes a confession and we realize everything that's been held back is allowed out for a few seconds, and it feels really good.
From this point on the album makes more and more sense; any time the protagonist comes to term with his emotions things get a little more festive, but most of the time is spent battling trying to come to terms with what's inside. "Scary Dream"'s weird and bouncy funk will get you dancing, but it's the sound of someone trying to escape, not have a good time. The album's first single "Holes" does a nice job of combining all of these effects into one song, which creates a confusing mix of buoyant anxiety. This is fitting since it also acts as the turning point for Back In Black; from here on out our man is slowly coming to terms with himself and the music begins to grow more melodic and less crushing.
It's not all sunshine and flowers. The song that follows is titled "Electrocute My Heart" and while it's ostensibly a ballad it still eventually surges into a moment of desperate yowling because, face it, the stuff that comes with wanting someone else if downright frightening, no matter how happy the vibes may be most of the time. An even more haunting ballad follows and then we shift into almost thinking our man is O.K. Almost.
"Jump Off A Bridge" harkens back to The Pursuit Of Happiness' "I Think I'm An Adult Now" in rhythm and delivery but Powell and the boys aren't afraid of impending adulthood, they're still grappling with something as basic as unrequited affection. This isn't even love, it's just the frustration of not being able to break through. But after all the turbulence earlier in the album this realization is carried through with quiet resolve and not screaming frustration. At least not here. You almost get the feeling that the narrator is speaking to the whoever it is that just doesn't care and as soon as he closes the door behind himself throws a tantrum voiced through the screed of sound that is "Mambo No. 9." Then breathes. Then realizes this is all natural.
So as the album closes with "Everything's Cool" it feels as if everything is in fact cool. The ugliness that is bottled emotion has been allowed to spew forth and while at times it was downright caustic and threatened to tear our narrator apart, as a whole it was cathartic and exposed that only by letting go of the poison can you reach up, open the blinds to let the light in and come to peace with the idea that everything's not fucked, it's actually pretty cool.
Archie Powell & The Exports play a release party for their new album with Soft Speaker, Pet Lions and Hot Broadcast on Friday, May 2, at Subterranean, 2011 W North, 9 p.m., $10 adv / $12 door, 17+