Back in February 2011 I somehow wound up Facebook friends with Archie Powell. Fast forward three months later. I decide to trim my Facebook friends from 330-something friends to 130-something. Somehow, Mr. Powell survives my miniature holocaust despite me having no idea who the hell this schmuck is. Now that I have considerably fewer friends, Archie’s status updates begin appearing on my wall. I notice he’s in a band, the creatively titled “Archie Powell & The Exports”. Perhaps it was Archie’s complete lack of hubris, perhaps I just wanted the chance to make fun of a fellow struggling artist, or perhaps it was fate. Whatever the cause, I found myself on The Exports bandcamp page, listening to their debut LP “Skip Work”.
Skip Work opens with the very poppy and decidedly not bluesy “Milkman Blues”. From there Skip Work grabs you by the throat, worms into your heartstrings, and takes you on a bumpy ride through its twelve tracks. I won’t lie, I came into this review prepared to rip Archie and his band mates a new asshole, but I simply don’t have it in me. Skip Work is too much fun.
There aren’t any standout tracks on Skip Work. Rather, Archie and Co have a very distinctive, signature style that they maintain throughout. Archie has a twangy, nasally voice halfway between John Darnielle and Tom Petty. It floats over The Exports tightly woven pop crunch like cold milk through sugary cereal, and works surprisingly well for something you’d imagine more suitable for an alt country act. Archie’s no Bob Dylan, but he isn’t Fred Durst either. Much like his music, Archie’s lyrics are simple, sincere, and fun. None of the instruments hog or fight for the spotlight, sacrificing personal glory for the benefit of the whole. When the guitar or keyboard take a few bars to solo, 90% of time it’s a simple repetition of the melody with a grace note or two thrown in ala Weezer and/or Nirvana. Every melody is equally infectious, so that after the CD ends, instead of having one song stuck in your head various melodies and choruses chirp through your brain like a college marching band arrangement.
There are two major things Skip Work has going for it. The first is that every member of the band has phenomenal chemistry with every other member. Clearly, The Exports are making music because this is what they love. It sounds strange, but you can almost feel the passion, energy, and youthful excitement behind every song. And despite Archie being too good to change his last name to Export like everyone else, he doesn’t hog the spotlight at all. Truly, every member of the band supports and focuses on every other member. There isn’t a single flashy solo, obnoxious drum fill, or offensive lyric that begs your undivided attention. Instead, everybody is content to let you focus on everybody else, and the end result is that it’s almost impossible not to hear the bigger picture behind every song.
The second thing Archie and the gang have going for them is, ironically, their obscurity. As much as I try and deny it, I’m a hipster who loves nothing more than introducing other people to music they’ve never heard before while rubbing my encyclopedic knowledge of its history in their faces (that’s why I’m so good at this job). Skip Work is the perfect CD for this. It’s too damn upbeat and catchy for anybody to dislike, yet too obscure to be mainstream. This means while my friends are getting their catchy tune fix during our car rides together I get to keep my indie cred while also not wanting to rip my hair out at having to listen to Lady Gaga and Nickelback yet again. Everybody wins.
Unfortunately for Powell and Co, Skip Work isn’t flawless. As I mentioned before none of the tracks stand out, including the two lead singles “Enough About Me” and “Skip Work”. While this makes for a smooth listen, after the CD ends you’re left feeling a bit empty. While catchy, none of the tracks stoop so low as to incorporate sing-along choruses ala “Lithium” or “Live Forever”. And because the entire CD is so damn positive and simple, none of the tracks have the cathartic release of more serious artists like Okkervil River or even The Beatles more political stuff. What this means is that Skip Work is the aural equivalent of an ice cream cone. It’s sweet, perfect during summer, and satiates a very particular craving, but ultimately doesn’t replace a hearty meal and leaves you wanting more.
While not perfect, Archie Powell and The Exports first LP is head and shoulders above most other unsigned bands debut efforts. For what it’s worth I genuinely hope Archie and Friends find mainstream success in the future, and will be giving Skip Work several spins throughout the summer. Archie, consider me a part of your ever expanding bandwagon, and may luck be with you.