Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Great Record Excavation: A is for Arcwelder

In what was probably the most-read post on this blog to date (thanks to a lot of you re-posting it and passing it around...hey, keep doing that), i made reference in the opening paragraph to my CD collection and how it started me thinking about how some of those discs are the only relic i have left to jog my memory about bands long relegated to obscurity. As i said then, it's not an indictment of their quality as bands, per se; rather, it's a symptom of being a music fan and consuming as many different bands as possible.

So here's what we're going to do once a week (or more if i get rambunctious some week): I'm going to go through my recorded music collection, one disc per letter of the alphabet per entry. I will endeavor to grab a CD, vinyl LP, or commercial cassette that is at the bare minimum five years old, but will generally be older (it also has to exist physically in my collection; this isn't the Great mp3 Excavation). I'll re-listen to the record, recall how i came across it, and decide if it has held up over time. I'll also post a SendSpace link to a download of the record, as i'm sure many of these will be out of print or at least difficult to find (however if you like the record and can find it for sale, i of course strongly advise you to purchase it on the off chance that the cash will still make it back to the band members; likewise, if any of the bands i write about in this feature don't want their records downloaded, they can let me know and i'll remove the [temporary] link).

Hopefully, each entry will sort of look like this:

The Album: Arcwelder, Pull (Touch & Go, 1993)

Who they were: Arcwelder were a Minneapolis entrant into the Touch & Go Records 1990s-era noise rock family (sort of amusing, as they would have fit on their hometown Amphetamine Reptile label just as easily). While their rhythmically driving, largely midtempo gallops invited easy comparisons to Jawbox, their growly guitar tones were more in line with several of their Chicago peers and labelmates in The Jesus Lizard, Pegboy, or Pegboy predecessor Naked Raygun.

Where i got the record: Ah, therein lies a tale. I first heard Pull, Arcwelder's third full-length and first of four for Touch & Go, in my pal (and current HiFi guitarist) Chris' Jeep on the way to some Fox Valley show or another back yonder 'round '93 or '94. I remember digging how the drone-like, box fan riffs of songs like "Will When You Won't" were counterbalanced by vocals that were far more melodic than many of the noisy T&G bands i was discovering at the time (Girls Against Boys, Shellac, etc.), and i especially was taken by the tom-heavy drumming on driving rockers like "What Did You Call It That For." Living in the orbit of Green Bay's legendary Concert Cafe all-ages venue, we were treated to a couple live visits from the band as Green Bay was one of the few viable punk towns within decent driving distance of Minneapolis. Still, while we saw our share of Arcwelder shows and enjoyed the hell out of Pull, i feel like our crew still relegated them to "serviceable younger cousin" status in relation to bands like the aforementioned Girls Against Boys, Jesus Lizard or Brainiac. Arcwelder were good, but when reaching for something abrasive on the CD shelf, Cruise Yourself or Liar were more likely go-tos. Thus, as Arcwelder slowed down with age, they began to fade a bit from memory.

Similarly, Arcwelder were seen by me as a fun bonus on the last day of 2006's Touch & Go 25th Anniversary weekend outside the Hideout in Chicago. After two nights of GVSB, Ted Leo, Man...or Astroman?, Killdozer, The Ex, Big Black, etc. holy shit etc., the idea of seeing one of the "minor" T&G bands that i had vaguely fond memories of kick off the Sunday festivities sounded like mere icing on the cake. So when they hopped on stage and proceeded to blow several of us away with one of the more spirited performances of the entire weekend, you could say i was a bit floored. The Graber brothers, Bill and Rob, rolled their way through one rollicking face-scraper after another while drummer Scott MacDonald dialed it in with killer tom fills and SINGING! Holy shit, how did i forget that he was a singing drummer? Awesome! (We singing drummers need to stick together as we get shat on more than regular drummers despite obviously being more talented.)

As they finished their set to a rousing ovation from an obviously gobsmacked crowd, HiFi bassist Josh turned to me and said, "let's go over to the merch stand and buy all their records right now." We made a beeline to where the CDs and vinyl were being sold, and having limited funds, i was forced to choose between four different Arcwelder records, none of which i had ever owned. But of course, familiarity caused Pull to jump out at me; thus, it was Pull that i bought.

Does it hold up? Yup--still awesome. The guitars still pack plenty of sugary hooks inside their distorted bite, while veering nowhere near pop. Songs like "Lahabim" take their time to establish a moody, deliberate midtempo groove, adding what sounds like occasional double-tracked drums for emphasis, while haunted vocal melodies and countermelodies add plenty of tension. Meanwhile, songs like "Remember to Forget" and "Just Not Moving" simply rock out with a bit of grunge-formula loud/louder/loud verse/chorus contrast.

Arcwelder, incidentally, never broke up; they still play infrequent shows around the upper Midwest and even toured the West Coast with Shellac in 2009. Which naturally begs the question: how much to get you guys down to Milwaukee for a show, dudes? For some reason i never grabbed any of your other records, and i'd prefer to buy them straight out of your hands.

Download Pull by Arcwelder right here


  1. Came here from the Arcwelder HQ mention of this very post (!) on Twitter. I wish these guys would come down my way too-- I've never had a chance to see them live, and I'd so buy them a beer. All the T&G-era records are still in print, best I can tell, and save the option to buy them in person, buying from T&G is a worthy cause. They're also all on Spotify, and they're all great. I've been listening to Everest lately quite a lot.

    I wish there was still a place to get the Jacket Made in Canada / This double CD. It's probably my favorite.

  2. Whoops, I didn't mean "double CD." It was one of those two-on-one-disc sorts of things. I am glad I still have my copy... haven't looked in a long time but the last one I saw on eBay went for nearly $60. It needs to be back in print! Anyway, I'll shut up now. Thanks for telling your audience about one of the most overlooked bands evar.