If Archie Powell had never started following me on Twitter, my life might be completely different right now.
I would have never followed his link to Myspace nearly two years ago, and never heard "Loose Change," which led to me wanting to listen to "Mattson is a Flake," which led to me loving his music and following him back, which led to me getting to know him and his band, the Exports (deep breath), which led me to regular updates about their music, which led to me befriending fellow music journalist Amber Valentine, which led to me texting her a picture of my cleavage and telling her about the time I got kicked out of the Girl Scouts, which led to her asking me to write a review of Archie Powell & the Exports' debut album, "Skip Work," on Radio Free Chicago.
Okay, so perhaps not all those things are directly connected, but suffice it to say, for however Archie found me (a little-known journalist in rural Washington state) in the first place, I am grateful.
I'm tempted to go on the record as saying I am AP&E's biggest fan, but I know I'd have at least a couple of ladies here at RFC to contend with (I will continue to believe it in my mind, however). And frankly, once everyone else in the world hears this album, well ... they'll ALL think they're the biggest fan because they will LOVE IT THAT MUCH. I worry that I might be overselling the boys a bit here, but it's easy to get carried away. Not only are they all very talented and attractive, they are charismatic, funny, interesting, masters of self-promotion, probably using some subliminal method of brainwashing, and fueled by tacos and beer. Really, with all that, how can you not adore them?
"Skip Work" is a labor of love from the indie-pop quartet — a dozen energetic songs about making the move from Wisconsin to Chicago, life as a starving artist, and how exhausting relationships can be. The sounds of rock 'n' roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Ritchie Valens converge on AP&E's debut with the alt-rock tone of their own generation. You can even hear how listening to the Beastie Boys on the way to and from recording sessions had an influence on their tunes, with metrical echoes of "Paul Revere" during Archie's fuzzed-out verses in "Fighting Words."
However, it must be noted that despite taking cues from styles that have been around for decades, AP&E sounds like nothing but themselves. Every song on "Skip Work" is a song you know you've never heard before, and that speaks to both Archie's songwriting skills and the band's instrumental abilities. To innovate by defying innovation — why, that's gotta be a massive challenge for a musician, yet AP&E succeed at it like it ain't no thing at all. It's like their rock and roll souls have been around longer than they have, and they're just doing what comes naturally.
Ryan Export brings some sweet ragtime piano on "Piggy Bank Blues" as Archie sings the poignant observation that "It doesn't matter if you've been to college or not/ ’Cause rock and roll is just a pyramid scheme." Adam Export leads in with crunchy bass on the single "Enough About Me" (the music video of which showcases a fair portion of their talents and attractiveness), a song which is almost too much fun, banished from my car right now because it's unsafe to dance and drive.
What can I say, I'm a sucker for a great hook.
The title track is anthemic, a sugary concoction of crashing drums, lively organ riffs and a pretty bitchin' guitar solo. For songs such as "All Tuckered Out" and "Follow Through," the band turns down the heat a bit to sing about feelings, all Gin Blossoms-style (for those uncertain, that's a compliment). AP&E chose the most perfect note to end on, with "The Darndest Things," a barroom jingle that would go down best with a shot of bourbon and a friend already buying the next round.
Abby Holmes is not only editor Amber Valentine's best lady but is also our first RFC Guest Blogger and quite the lovely (not to mention attractive) woman! You can read her wordplay on a regular basis at Wenatchee World's Give It A Spin and her personal blog Another Festive Compromise. Who wants to hear more from her on RFC in the future? We all do.