Before I get lost in the flight of fancy that is to follow, let me begin by saying unequivocally that ArchAnimals are currently the most underrated live band in New Orleans. In a town practically run on a collective desire to hone and perfect a particular style of music designed to embody all that is “the Big Easy”, three young men are, at this very moment, in a precarious position that finds their milieu far from “perfected”, yet more fully realized than it might ever be in the future.
Sure, New Orleans is known for its brass and ArchAnimals are a brassless indie rock band, so the rules ought to be a little different; but even in the city’s underground rock and roll community there tends to be at least a little bit of homogeneity. Many of the newest wave of young college-age musicians that have slowly begun to make themselves known in the New Orleans underground of late – the majority of which are, unsurprisingly, imported talent from Texas and Tennessee – carry with them an ostensible tinge of southern drawl. Coyotes feel like an indie-glossed Gram Parson and Pals bring back the vague nostalgia of loose jaminess, while Gold and the Rush are almost specifically a southern rock band. Yet if I were to try and delineate the arguable influences of Dennis Sager, Christian Baraks and Matthew Seferian, I’d have a difficult time making a case for any singular – or even particular – reference point from which to place the band’s sound, save for Seferian’s revelatory penchant for the staggering balance between form and dissonance originally personified by Archers of Loaf guitarist Eric Johnson.
As baldfaced a comparison as that may be, Seferian’s (and, by proxy, Johnson’s) presence in ArchAnimals gives the fit of a puzzle tailor-made for its own pieces. Until recently, the band appeared to be nothing more than Dennis Sager’s voice and guitar surrounded by any number of musicians present at whatever venue he happened to be performing. Indeed, it’s tough to nail down a solid identity when your band comprises one guitarist, or two, or sometimes three, with the occasional bass or harmonica, and your only consistencies lie in a budding songwriter and a drummer (Baraks) who’s been banging on skins for a mere matter of weeks. Yet, with the addition of lead guitarist Seferian, ArchAnimals have parlayed their already-loose live approach into something more raucous than one can reasonably describe with text. At such a risk, it’s a fairly thrilling – and deceptively simple – broth of a songwriter whose intentional lack of grace in delivery probably couldn’t find better foils than in a drummer whose talent’s infancy frees hims from the constraints of style and formal technique and a guitarist whose systematic purpose is to create noise and antagonize the edges of melody and rhythm.
For nearly a decade, indie culture has seen a rise in lo-fi music that almost perfectly coincides with the reissuing of Pavement’s entire catalog. As a result, an entire generation of contemporary musicians tends to view that band as the reigning kings of college rock (which, frankly, they are), and these musicians’ wholesale emulation of said kings is at least marginally more impressive than their even clumsier attempts to draw influence from the more obscure pockets of 90s indie and noise. In that decade I’ve listened to and analyzed pocket band Archers of Loaf (and particularly their sophomore recordVeeVee) as the kind of perfect blend of simplicity in function, complexity in execution and against-the-grain progressive art rock conceptualism that no future band would ever be capable of doing justice. But (and this really shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering how correct young New Orleans indie rock bands tend to come these days) leave it to a trio of Tulane and Loyola students in 2012 to serendipitously grasp what requires years of intellectualizing from losers like me.