Reason in Decline, the first studio album from North Carolina veteran indie rockers Archers of Loaf in nearly a quarter century, is a mostly solid set of ten songs that range in style from anthemic stadium rock to productions reminiscent of alternative bands who had their heyday three decades ago. While singer/guitarist Eric Bachman’s vocals still sound strong, and the musicianship between the original four members remains tight, the songs on Reason in Decline, while largely decent, are never quite able to resurrect the energy and catchiness of the Archers’ earliest singles.
With its tense, pounding chords and lyrics about substance abuse and recovery, “Human” is a near-perfect first track that takes full advantage of Bachman’s beautifully emotive voice. “You fell on hard times, cold and hostile, cocaine all caked around your nostrils,” Bachman sings, poignantly pausing after each line. “Human” sets the bar high for Reason in Decline, but its charms are rarely equaled during the nine songs that follow. The album’s single, “Screaming Undercover”, shows up third in the sequence and provides lots of punk energy but never delivers a memorable chorus and, with its abrupt ending, feels like it’s an idea only half realized. “Aimee” concludes the record’s first half and, with its dramatic piano and wistful slide guitar, offers up a pretty, balladic respite from its predecessors.
“Breaking Even” is a pleasant mid-tempo number that features lots of excellent guitar work and pulls out a well-constructed bridge, proving the Archers can still deliver a song with strong compositional components. The excellent shout-along “Misinformation Age” follows and works remarkably well as an eleventh-hour pick-me-up. Reason in Decline is concluded with the five-plus-minute piano ballad “War is Wide Open”. Here, Bachman’s vocals are at their most vulnerable as he gorgeously sustains notes, adding a touch of vibrato to almost every line’s end as if to delicately color each one’s elegant tail.
Reason in Decline is a good album. The record’s weaker, more forgettable moments are buffered by the songs that work best here, those being the ones that rekindle Archers of Loaf’s musical virtuosity buoyed by Bachman’s superior songwriting. It also doesn’t hurt that the album is bookended by two outstanding songs that help make front-to-back repeat listens an easy ask. For a band that hasn’t released an album in twenty-four years, Reason in Decline is a sufficient comeback, one that positions the Archers well for whatever they decide to do next.